By Josh Speer / November 10th, 2014
|Title||Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX|
|Release Date||October 30th, 2014|
|Genre||Action, Adventure, Shooter|
|Age Rating||T – Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes|
Sometimes I find the best, most rewarding games are those I discover through random circumstance. Sure, it’s also satisfying to research an upcoming game and be totally invested in all the little details before it even comes out, but there is something very special about going into a game blind and finding a winner. Such was certainly the case with Armillo a while back. But could the same be said for Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX? I never played the WiiWare original this upgraded remake is based on, and had never heard of Akaoni Studio prior to playing the remake. Honestly, the reason I got the game at all was ’cause of the splashy, colorful graphics and because it reminded me a lot of Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ, a very niche game that was an utter delight. I actually thought Zombie Panic might be by the same team, but alas, these are two completely different games. The question remains: Was Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX another hidden gem, or should it shamble back to the grave of unwanted video games?
The game starts out in a village on the outskirts of Wonderland, with our hero Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japanese folklore, doing a little shopping. Being the dense sort, he is unaware of the looming zombie invasion until the shopkeep tries to nibble on his noggin. Thus begins the madness of Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX. It is a curious mix of Japanese folklore, Western fables and rail shooters, with a dash of insane humor thrown in. You control Momotaro for the duration of the Story mode, unlocking Arcade missions by beating stages. The story mode is divided into 4 chapters, which are each split into 3 levels. The first 2 are stages where you fight off hordes of zombies and the third is always a intense boss battle. As for the gameplay side of things, Zombie Panic does a great job.
Though there are two control schemes you can use, the best one by far is the stylus option. By aiming at enemies with the cursor, you fire your infinite ammo machine gun at them, and you can dodge enemy attacks by using the joystick and shoulder button. Double tapping will launch a grenade, though you only have a limited supply, which you can supplement by destroying parts of the environment. You also can find ammo for a Flamethrower and Gatling Gun. So you have all these powerful weapons, but the catch is you don’t progress vertically through stages as you do in Zombie BBQ, but rather are locked onto a horizontal plain. Zombies can and will pop out of every conceivable location, sometimes right next to you, trying to grab you, charge you or hit you with projectiles. Yes, you heard that right. These aren’t dumb, shambling zombies, but ones who work in concert to defeat you. Some will even duck under cover to avoid your gunfire. There’s a wide variety as well, ranging from mundane Japanese citizen zombies, to bloated Sumos, to balloon-propelled winged monkeys to even zombie Santa. Each and every foe bursts with creativity and the unique comic flavor of this game oozes from every seam.
You get through stages by destroying each zombie horde, which will engage you in waves. You have a limited amount of time to do so, making it so that every shot counts. You can and should destroy your environment as well, as doing so will net you more ammo, grenades and even the occasional extra continue or heart lollipop. These last details are especially important, since you only start with two hearts, and getting hit once will instantly kill you. Die twice and you can continue, but once you run out of continues it’s Game Over and you have to start over from the beginning. Upon beating a stage, you are presented with a Clear Screen that shows how much of the stage you destroyed. I don’t know what you get for 100%, but I’m assuming it gets one of many hidden unlockables, such as character dioramas and extra costumes.
Unlike many games these days, Zombie Panic has the old-school hard-as-nails ethic, and requires you to constantly polish your skills and learn enemy patterns. Though Story mode only consists of 12 stages, they get progressively harder and more hectic. Zombie hordes become interspersed with challenging Mini Bosses, such as the Mad Hatter shown a couple pics above. They also get longer and longer, becoming a battle of attrition as you strive to survive. My only complaint is sometimes the enemies attacking you will be off screen slightly, so you might get hit before you know what’s happening. Though the game does try to remedy this with an exclamation mark to demarcate what side of the screen hidden foes lies on, it often is hard to see as you frantically battle zombies. Luckily these didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment too much.
Of special note are the over-the-top and challenging boss fights in the game. Each of these is composed of multiple segments, and they are all a treat. Ranging from a bloodthirsty, giant Tin Man to a deranged, sadomasochistic Queen of Hearts and more, they are a lot of fun. It is a rush dodging giant chunks of wood and axe strokes, only to put these demented fairy tales to rest. My only complaint is that there aren’t more of them in the Story mode.
Speaking of which, between stages, the game uses cutscenes to progress the plot, with dialogue displayed on the bottom screen. Unfortunately, the plot is thin at best and confusing at worst, mostly due to the garbled translation. Though intermittently the script makes sense, it shows that English is not Akaoni Studio’s first language. I just wish a bit more care had been put into this segment, as it would have conveyed tone better. As it is, my best theory is that somehow a band of Dwarves (not the iconic 7) are emitting some Zombie-attracting scent. Bear with me, as it gets more confusing. For some reason, this makes the zombies amorous, which somehow translates to their sudden invasion of Wonderland. It doesn’t get any more clear than that, but luckily the gameplay is the focus, and Akaoni does a great job there.
Another area that Zombie Panic shines is in the music and sound effects department. The tunes range from haunting to comical, and never take my attention away from battle. The grunts of dying zombies also kept me invested, though they did get tiresome after a while. It almost goes without saying that I love the art direction in the game. It’s colorful, varied and attention grabbing. It is also very skewed towards Anime, with lots of large eyes, half-clothed women and massive explosions. It’s a very pretty eShop game, and looks even more impressive in 3D. Had this game eschewed the poor story and just focused on the gameplay, I likely would have given this game a perfect score.
As far as replay value goes, Zombie Panic doesn’t have a ton going for it. By beating a level you unlock it in Arcade Mode. The primary benefit there is that you can play through any stage in Arcade mode as one of the unlockable side characters. There are three of them I encountered: Dorothy, Alice and Snow White. Each was unlocked after I defeated their chapter, and each boasts different strengths and weaknesses. I am also under the impression that there are unlockable stages, but I have yet to earn those.
Overall, I was well-pleased with Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX. Having never played the original, I thought the 3DS version was a lot of fun. With great visuals, tight, hard-as-nails gameplay and fitting tunes, it was a great investment for only $6. Though I beat the Story mode in about 4 hours, I still have more to unlock, and enjoy replaying it for the hell of it. I would recommend it for anyone that’s a fan of old-school games, zombies or just looking for a new eShop title. These rotting menaces provide a great time in Wonderland!
Review copy provided by reviewer
3DSanimeCrazyShooterZombie Panic in Wonderland DX