Talk about chewing up your spare time! Mobigame’s Zombie Tsunami manages to throw an unforgettable twist on both the overused zombie theme and infinite runner genre. Zombie Tsunami features the same basic framework seen in other similar titles: You character runs automatically across a scrolling landscape at an ever increasing pace while your job is to tap and hold to make it jump over various obstacles and pitfalls. There is no end state or win condition. Just go as far as you can and try again later. It’s a perfect, 2-minute formula for mobile devices that has made infinite runners such a staple since Canabalt. So what makes ZT stand out? Company.
Scattered amongst the platforms, pitfalls, and other perils, you’ll find scattered pedestrian in peril. Lend ‘em a tooth and they’ll happily join in your brain chomping fun run. Amass a large enough horde and you’ll be able to bowl over cars, busses, and tanks to get at the tender, juicy brains inside, further adding to your numbers. It is this mob mentality that sets ZT apart from the pack. You’re new found clique isn’t just a mechanical line of robots mimicking your every move. The mob is always in motion, shifting and shambling around. Once you’ve amassed about a dozen of the yammering green monster, the horde begins to thin itself. A shifting front line inevitably drops the leader into a pit while the lag of your rear guard leads them to cartoon “Boom!” death at the fiery whims of a bomb your leading minions jumped over a second before. This leads to a hysterical amount of family friendly comic carnage that doesn’t ever feel cheap or push you towards a fail state. Quite the contrary, the zombie gathering mechanic allows more mistakes than most titles in this traditionally one-hit-kill style of game.
Rather than tracking the total distance you managed to survive, Zombie Tsunami ranks you on the number of brains converted converted. It’s an odd mechanic in a runner style game, but plays well with TZ’s theme and bonus system. Every 100 brains collected levels up your status and provides a surprisingly satisfying scratch-off lottery ticket. Bonuses provide either power-ups for your next run or additional coins. Coins are used to unlock persistent abilities from a tech tree, like starting with additional zombies or boosting other power-ups, or one time boosters for your next game session only. Perhaps most importantly, coins can be used to buy a wide assortment of hats for your undead mob. This meta-game level provides long term context to your 3 minute game session, even if it does feel creepily close to the system laid out in Jetpack Joyride.
Sadly, the meta-game level is a strictly local affair. While Apple’s Game Center is integrated, there are no achievements. Cloud saves are not available to carry your progress between devices. The only use of online is for an online scoreboard filled to the brim with hacked totals from various ne’er-do-wells. An in-app purchase can be used to supply impatient player with a batch of additional coins, but is not necessary.
Production quality is top notch. The adorable, almost clay-like, art style speaks for itself in the screenshots. The large character models look fantastic be it on the hi-res iPad or smaller iPhone screen. The various background are likewise full of charm and detail, such as the scene depicting the zeds’ reinterpretation of Mt. Rushmore. Animation is minimal, but feels more like a stylistic choice than technical constraint. What you can’t tell from the screenshots is the fantastic audio. Sure, there’s the usual boom of bombs and ching of coins accompanied by a peppy, brass heavy music loop, but the real star of the soundscape is the zombies. The happy chattering of these children of undeath recalls the 1980s Gremlins movies more than groaning shamblers of a Romero flick. While the stuttering babbles of a few zombies is enough to elicit a giggle, a full blown zombie tsunami is outright hysterical. Especially once they’ve been decked out with top hats and disco wigs. Performance was likewise impressive. Even our battered ol’ 2nd gen iTouch never skipped a frame with with a gaggle of ghouls overturning buses and munching on brains.
On a platform overflowing with both zombie and runner games, Zombie Tsunami manages to sprint to the head of the pack thanks to its beautifully rendered world, delightful sound design, and novelty of controlling a horde of yammering, bouncing zombies with a single tap. Lack of a true set of online features is a disappointment, as is the fact that the meta-gaming level borrows from its contemporaries a little too much for comfort, however neither of these peripheral features detract much from the gooey, gamey goodness at its core. Zombie Tsunami is a wave of fun iOS gamers will surely want to ride.
Zombie Tsunami is available as a unified app for all models of the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad running iOS 3.0 or later available via iTunes for $0.99 (Free at time of posting). Reviewed on iOS 4.2.1 iPod Touch 2nd gen and iOS 5.1.1 iPad 2.
Reviewer Rating: 4/5 Stars – Ride the Wave!