Minis Review – Age of Zombies

At first glance, you may think Age of Zombies looks like a fairly unassuming mini. Browsing through the Store, you’ll find lots of titles which have a similar looking gameplay style and it’s not like the Store isn’t already overrun by these flesh munching monsters. Indeed the description that Age of Zombies features “all manner of historical undead zombies” doesn’t exactly instil excitement or fear. But then you should notice that the developer behind Age of Zombies is none other than Halfbrick Studios. That logo of a semi broken piece of building material is essentially as good as a virtual seal of approval direct from Sony. Admittedly, the Halfbrick minis have just been XBLA ports, but in all honesty they are extremely good XBLA ports and Age of Zombies is no exception. Whenever you see that logo, you should immediately throw any negative conceptions you have about the game out the window; when it comes to Age of Zombies, I suggest you also start gently punching yourself for ever doubting these creative geniuses (not too much that you can’t play the game, obviously.)

Age of Zombies starts off with your typical barmy professor exchanging unpleasantries with your typical wise-cracking action hero. Our protagonist, Barry Steakfries, isn’t taking too kindly to the evil professor’s plans of dispersing zombies throughout time so that they can wreak havoc in all sorts of mystical locations. And so, doing as any half-insane action hero would, he kills the professor and jumps in the time portal himself to try and catch up with the time-traveling zombies. So, as you can see, Age of Zombies doesn’t have the deepest of plots around but it certainly holds true to the wacky, slightly dark humored nature of the game.

The gameplay is something which I’m sure most people will have seen before. Yes, it’s another twin stick Smash-TV-’em-up. While it’s true that twin stick shooters don’t exactly have the best track record on PSP, Age of Zombies shows that the lack of a second analog nub doesn’t have to be a hindrance. The face buttons do a perfectly good job of mimicking the missing stick, with a combination of adjacent buttons being used to shoot diagonally. But what will we be shooting with, I hear you ask? Well, Age of Zombies packs a considerable punch when it comes to the weaponry. There are all sorts of firearms lying, from your humble SMGs and shotguns, to your more extravagant mini-guns and bazookas. Each weapon has its own strategy for use: when zombies are being funneled down a small alleyway, the rifle is be best since it tears through anyone who’s unfortunate to get in its way, undead or otherwise, while the shotgun would be best if you have enemies streaming in all sides.

Any zombies that come into contact with you will instantly start gnawing on your tender, flesh so it’s best to stay well away from them. The balance of speed in the game is perfect, you CAN outrun the individual zombies but a horde of them will quickly engulf you, especially in the smaller levels. The sheer numbers of zombies can overwhelm you if you’re not careful about where you’re going. You may get trapped in areas with your only option being to try and fight your way into some open space. To make things that little bit harder, zombie spawn locations are random; a relatively safe place can quickly turn into a dangerous one.

The zombies themselves also come in many different flavors, from the glowing red, exploding zombies, to the slightly tougher, big-head-mode-on-‘roids zombies. Every type of zombie however suffers from the same genuinely inept zombie AI; they’re always getting stuck on the walls, especially in the more irregularly shaped levels. It seems like the only they’ve been programmed with is the follow-the-dude-with-the-juicy-brain code, but hey, what do you expect? They’re zombies! Still, there’s enough variety in the zombie types and weapons to stave off repetition.

All of this makes for a pleasant, if somewhat unsubstantial experience, but what makes Age of Zombies truly entertaining is its dry sense of humor and childlike satirical attitude. If you’re looking for a game full thinly veiled pot shots and general wit then, boy, you’re in for a treat! Hell, you know you’ve hit the jackpot as soon as the name “Barry Steakfries” pops up on screen and the entire game is riddled with this silly humor. The level design caters to the social stereotypes of the region so expect to find ninja zombies equipped with shurikens in Feudal Japan and don-zomb’s making business arrangements with their Tommy Guns in the 1930s New York level. Oh, but the relentless mocking doesn’t stop there! Every level has a commentator who will annunciate any weapon you pick up in a borderline offensive accent: the Japanese announcer speaks in vague Engrish and the game even features a special cameo appearance by The Fonz’s voice box for the New York gangster level.

In fact, it’s impossible to mention the humor in this game without giving a massive amount of credit to the writing. The story may be wafer thin, but you seriously shouldn’t skip the cut scenes and deprive yourself of this biting satire! Age of Zombies is full nuanced old school gaming references and even includes a hilarious internet meme thrown in for good measure (hint: Barry doesn’t have two pairs of sunglasses, but if he did, he’d be wearing them both at the same time!) It’s this humor and charm which gives the game character, something which even most full retail releases don’t seem to pick up on, and it’s one the main reasons you’re going to see a high number at the end of this review.

The presentation of the game is also top notch. The 2D sprite like characters and levels look great on a PSP screen (unfortunately, the same can’t be said for PS3 but never mind.) While the graphics do look nice, they’re somewhat eclipsed by the fantastic soundtrack. The music used matches the scene; every level is given its own guitar driven remix. The tone and pace fits in perfectly with the game and increases the entertainment value immensely. Unlike most minis, it’s genuinely a pleasure to listen to and Age of Zombies proves that just because you’re seeing a release on minis, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the audio quality. Saying this, it would have been even better if a voice actor was brought in to play Barry Steakfries, even if it was just for a few lines in the intro. Speaking of voice acting, the game includes some rather unconvincing but no less amusing zombie groans, meaning that, by default, this is the best acting in the game.

At the end of it all, I can’t help but feel a little sad. Barry Steakfries may be a completely two dimensional character (both literally and figuratively) but this shouldn’t be the end of the road for our frivolous adventurer. He should be given his own TV show, or at the very least be allowed to do continuity for G4 TV. Anyway, not to worry because once you’ve polished up the story you can go back and try your hand at survival mode; the jokes may be gone but your still left with the incredibly enjoyable gameplay. The story may not be the longest around, my playtime clocked in at a little over an hour, but short, humorous and all-round entertaining games are what I now come to expect from minis.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

The funniest, blast-iest, most entertaining mini around.

Includes a hugely enjoyable soundtrack.

A little on the short side.

9 out of 10