The twin stick shooter is a sub-genre that has been a staple of video games since the days when arcade cabinets mercilessly ate quarters. The most iconic incarnation of this deviously simple control scheme is Robotron: 2084. The idea is that one joystick is used to control character movement while the other is used to aim and blast away at repeated onslaughts of attackers. The genre has been somewhat dormant since the demise of the arcade cabinet, but Reality Squared Games has been dipping into the well of ancient game mechanics and blending them with MMO systems to help fill out their library recently (see Blade Hunter). This time around, they’ve come up with Zombies Ate My Pizza. Does taking the dual joystick controls, mapping them onto a keyboard and mouse, then blending in the persistent worlds, social features, character progression, and loot from MMORPGs create the makings of a hit game? Read on to find out.
It has to be said: the title of the game is incredibly silly. Zombies have been the “monster du jour” for quite some time, so it could be that the ridiculous title is R2 Games’ attempt to make their zombie game stand out from (the many) other games in the field. Once you play the game for a little while, though, it’s clear that the pizza connection has been added entirely through the text of the game and has no connection to the actual game play. The cheese and food-related puns in the character names and the dialogue occasionally elicit a smile, but for the most part feel like a feverish attempt to weave a theme into the game as an afterthought.
The graphics have a cute, isometric, animé-inspired look that is offset by the large automatic weapons the avatars carry for zombie killing. The character portraits when talking to NPCs veer towards cheesecake/beefcake, but nothing too controversial. The practicality of wearing a camouflage bikini while pumping off rounds into the faces of the undead is questionable, but frankly if you are drawn to a game about zombies eating pizza it’s hard to imagine that practicality is what you came for.
The music and sound effects are fine, but the music snippets are very short so they end up playing in a loop repeatedly. The small bites of spoken audio for NPCs also get overused and don’t convey any valuable feedback or do much to flesh out the world of the game. The NPCs wind up falling in the trap of video game characters who have one annoying catchphrase that they repeat like a parrot, making you painfully aware that you are playing a game with computer controlled players and not engaging in an immersive world.
One of the things that MMORPGs need to excel at in order to keep players engaged for months and years at a time is variety. By providing numerous areas to explore and different activities to engage in, players who get tired of one activity can simply move to another for a while. Fast paced action shooters are not great at offering a lot of environmental variety, and Zombies Ate My Pizza suffers heavily because of this. A lot of the gameplay consists of returning to levels you’ve already cleared and clearing them again to acquire materials used for crafting and upgrading weapons. The levels are generally pretty brief, playing out in less than a few minutes of play, but that brevity seems like a tacit acknowledgement that this game won’t really sustain longer play sessions.
Before even diving in to the game play proper, you are presented with a character selection screen where you can choose either the male or female version of two classes, commando or bomber. There is, unfortunately, no clear information on the character selection screen about what the differences are between the two, if any. It could be an entirely cosmetic choice, or it could change the way the game is played. The cryptic and brief descriptions do a poor job of distinguishing them.
There are several nods to one of the seminal zombie video games, Resident Evil, built in to the game. One of the most clever is the incorporation of the limited ammunition mechanic that made RE such a harrowing experience. Because Zombies Ate My Pizza is a shoot ‘em up experience, completely limiting the ammo would make the game feel broken and not very fun. The ammo on the main weapon does recharge over time, but you have to be thoughtful about when to use it because it gets the most bang for the buck. When the ammo on your main weapon runs out, there is a backup sidearm that will shoot automatically, and there is always the option to fire off special skills such as turrets and grenades which use a limited pool of energy. Putting limits on ammo is a neat twist that adds a layer of tactical complexity to the standard spray and pray shooter gameplay.
There are a lot of features for character advancement and crafting material gathering while being away from the keyboard, another design that feels like the developers acknowledging that ZAMP is not a game that sustains long play sessions. Any given level can be optionally “blitzed”, which is essentially spending stamina points to let the game run the level for you and spit out the loot at the end. While these kinds of features favor gamers who might not have as much free time on their hands, the content and gameplay ought to be more compelling. Then people wouldn’t mind enjoying the game for what it is rather than just trying to advance their character level or wealth.
As with Blade Hunter, Reality Squared Games is clever in looking to the past to find popular genres from the days of arcades and mashing them up with MMORPG mechanics from today. While the execution is not up to par, the idea is a good one. The introduction of the ammunition limits adds an interesting twist to the standard twin stick shooter, showing that there is room for innovation even in well-tread genres.
Apart from the brevity of the music loops and the lack of variety in the NPC spoken dialogue, the polish of the game seems fine. There were a few rare instances where the LFG tool seized up and prevented progress forward or backing out. Other than that, all of the systems worked fine and the graphics have a very professional level of design. There’s some temptation to ding the score in this section for the bad puns in the dialogue, but that criticism will stay in the aesthetics section.
There are several systems, such as the AFK levelling and the brevity of the levels, that seem to directly address the problem that games like this aren’t all the fun to play for long stretches at a time. In short bursts, the game play is definitely fun but it’s difficult to see what would keep someone coming back again and again. There is an element of old arcade magic with leaderboards and PvP arenas for simple death matches, but this doesn’t add up to enough to become a serious addiction. There are also incentives for logging in every day in the form of free prizes which can be increased by spending money in the cash shop. Again, however, unless you have a lot of close friends in the game or just really enjoy the shooter style of gameplay it’s hard to see Zombies Ate My Pizza becoming a big part of anyone’s gaming rotation.
All of the social tools are there and the game seems to be hopping at all hours. In place of guilds, ZAMP has what are called militias. They appear to be limited in size to 21 people, but the tool to evaluate and request to join militias is information rich: it tells you who the leader is, how many people are joined up and where the militia ranks in relation to other militias. There’s even a button to request membership right on the list, although just randomly seeking membership in militias did not seem wildly fruitful for the purposes of this review, as one might expect.
The chat tools appear to work fine, but there isn’t much purpose to typed chat on missions with such an action focused game. It would be impossible to coordinate tactics via type with the undead breathing down your neck. The world chat channel is mostly used for trading and new players seeking advice. The community was generally friendly and responsive.
One really positive thing about this game is that it never pesters you for money. The buttons are always there to offer you the chance to make things go faster for a little cash, but it never feels like you are being prevented from playing the way you want to play until you pay up. The stamina meter, which recharges automatically over time and theoretically would eventually run out preventing dungeon runs, seems very ample and allows for a healthy amount of play time in one session. Cash shop purchases are there for those who want nicer cosmetics or want their characters to level up more quickly, but there is no feeling of being put in a penalty box that you have to pay your way out of.
The idea of the game is a laudable one. It’s great to see game developers synthesizing great games from the past with the socially enabled, persistent online worlds of today. The execution in this case falls a bit flat with a cringe-inducing layer of puns that has to be negotiated before getting to game play that is fun in short bursts but not engaging long term. Zombies Ate My Pizza is a technically adequate game which is fun to play, but lacks the hooks to keep you coming back.
| Fun graphics style
Shmup mechanics make ZAMP stand out from other MMOs
Subtle, low pressure cash shop
| Awful food puns
Only fun in short bursts