Twin-stick shooters are fairly commonplace, but you rarely see them blended with other genres. Zombie Party mixes things up a lot by adding some bullet hell and RPG elements to the core game. Anyone who got into twin-stick shooters thanks to Geometry Wars will be right at home here, even with the game functioning a bit differently. The core mechanics are just as frantic, and Zombie Party keeps that game’s addictive nature.
The left stick moves you around, while the right stick aims and RT shoots. This is a slight change compared to most controller-supported twin-stick shooters, but it winds up making for a better game. Players have to rely on proper timing instead of just throwing bullets around the screen at all times. Each of the four playable characters differ in terms of their skillset. With one, you might get a faster firerate — but sacrifice some HP in the process. That holds true if you want to play as a powerhouse. You might do more damage per shot, but you’ll need to be more accurate to make use of that. The RPG elements are woven intricately into the fabric of the game.
As you mow down wave after wave of enemies, you’ll be rewarded with loot. Money lets you buy more ammo for a certain gun, or you can upgrade your gun. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter just the right ammo on the field after a wave. Otherwise, you’ll need to visit the in-game shop to replenish your supply. The shop can only be visited between between waves, however, so you need to make sure you get everything you’ll need quickly. Do you opt to grab all the cash you can, but skip the shop for this round in the hope that you’ll live through the next wave? It’s a trade-off you’ll be making after every round, and that’s something you’ll be considering with every play session.
Fortunately, Zombie Party does a stellar job at minimizing frustration. Beyond all the ways to strengthen your character through power-ups, the leveling up system gives you boosts as you play. This makes a Rambo-like run where you just destroy everyone in multiple waves quite doable once you learn the mechanics and figure out the best place to be in the stage. Sticking in a corner might give you some save haven, but it also means you’ll be at a much higher risk of being trapped. You have less room to move, even if enemies have fewer angles to attack you from. During boss battles, you’ll use a lot of trial and error to succeed.
The bosses are one of the game’s best points, as they force you to use the skills learned during the regular waves to succeed. You’ll want to have at least one power-up or ammo refill before a boss battle, and be on your A game. Smartly mowing down the hordes of goons is a must, as is gathering up any health refills you can find. Those are rare even during a wave, so getting one during a boss battle is akin to an old prospector finding a ton of gold. The boss battles, and waves, never wear out their welcome. Thanks to the bite-sized nature of the waves and stages as a whole, you’ll be able to take breaks easily and avoid burning out or just wearing your hands out.
The button layout is perfect and being able to switch between weapons in real-time is something rarely seen in twin-stick games. It’s a common feature in first and third-person shooters that hasn’t been done much in this genre. It makes for a more enjoyable experience because certain guns are better against certain enemies than others. If you’ve got a wave of parasites coming at you, then shotgun blasts will take out a lot of them quickly. Conversely, a rapid-fire gun is better for zombies since they’ve got small HP amounts and you can hit a cluster of them swiftly to take them out faster than you even could with a shotgun.
Visually, Zombie Party looks fantastic and makes perfect use of pixel art. So many games use pixel art as a crutch, but this game feels like something that would’ve been a great arcade game in the early ’90s. The graphics are vivid with a lot of color being used alongside some blurring and Matrix time effects that add more life to the game. Animation is limited, but that’s a good thing for a shooter like this as you don’t want animations taking too long and preventing you from attacking quickly. Zombie Party’s soundtrack is presently its weakest point,though. The chiptune work here is solid, but doesn’t stick with you after playing. It’s far from bad though, but just isn’t quite as good as everything else. The sound effects are perfect, and you get a sense for how damaging the weapons are and their firerate just from the sound effects. This helps you learn the weapons just through sound, which is helpful when you’re swarmed and don’t have time to look at the top left-hand side to see the weapon you’re holding.
Zombie Party is currently available in early access form on Steam. If you enjoy twin-stick shooters, get it as soon as possible. It’s an excellent entry in that genre, and can serve as a fine gateway game for those who just haven’t played one yet. The pixel art style is instantly-appealing and might make folks who grew up in the 16-bit era try a twin-stick shooter thanks to the familiarity of the art style. Even without a full feature set, Zombie Party provides a lot of fun and gets a strong recommendation from us.