Zombie Night Terror
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Developed By: NoClip
Published By: Plug In Digital
Release Date: January 31, 2019
Lemmings is one of those titles that I can always go back to, archaic gameplay and all, and still enjoy. I can remember it featuring clever use of strategy in order to navigate your Lemmings to their safe destination. In the same vein, developer NoClip has brought their take on the Lemmings formula with Zombie Night Terror, which is now out on the Nintendo Switch.
In Zombie Night Terror you don’t directly control the zombies, but rather you interact with the environment and change the abilities the zombies have. It’s a 2D side-scrolling game and the zombies have a very basic AI component where they shuffle about and bite any AI close enough. The zombies will keep walking until they hit a wall and then turn around, or run into a human and eat their brains. That’s the main goal, getting the zombies to the end of a level or kill enough humans in order to progress.
Along with guiding your zombies, you have a series of mutations along the bottom UI of the screen. This includes syringes that can alter the zombie itself, like the Overlord button, which is a zombie that acts like a wall so zombies can more quickly turn in the opposite direction. You’ve also got mutations that are buffs, like having a zombie jump or speed up which give temporary effects to each zombie you administer the serum to.
The comparisons to Lemmings with Zombie Night Terror end with how you could get Lemmings to happily walk off cliffs and all you would have to do was give certain Lemmings jobs, like blocker, climber, and more. One of the things that made the gameplay unique for Zombie Night Terror though was being able to use multiple mutations to stack effects. For example, you could place an Overlord zombie to not only block zombies, but if you use a speed buff on it the other zombies that come in contact move faster. So, instead of just using a single buff on only one zombie you get the benefit of a stampeding horde.
Each of the zombie mutations cost DNA which you replenish by either eating more humans, or sacrificing some of your zombie horde. There are some pickups you can obtain in some of the levels as well. You don’t want to sacrifice too many of the zombies though, as they’re limited in number and are an important resource in the later levels in particular. The level variety is done well and reminded me of Party Hard with how many different locations you play in; from nightclubs to prisons, inside and outside areas, different weather patterns, and of course a zombie apocalypse you control.
Graphically, Zombie Night Terror has a retro-like art style, but I find that this is only in the pixels as the animations are very well done. It has enough of a modern feel that makes it not look like a poor attempt of meshing old-school graphics with new gameplay mechanics. The music is going for a subdued horror feel, that is until you start to take out humans and the soundtrack swells up. I could hear the screams and agonizing gurgling deaths with each kill and add with the already tense premise, you may have find it all disturbing in a good way.
While I enjoyed the premise, the execution of Zombie Night Terror on the Switch left much to be desired. Sometimes zombies would get stuck in odd places leading easily to a mission failed screen, but it was infrequent enough as to not ruin the experience. What did severely hamper my experience though were the control schemes.
I preferred handheld mode, mainly because I could use the touchscreen and issue commands more effectively, but oftentimes it was hard to push some simple commands due to the small area you had to tap. On the other hand, playing in tabletop or docked mode was doable, but ultimately frustrating as you use the right Joy-Con controller to move a cursor with motion controls and have to try and select the small icons using the pointer method. Also, the aim reticule would oftentimes get out of center and then I would have to hit the X button to get it centered again.
Speaking positively again, I really enjoyed the level and challenge variety Zombie Night Terror throws at you. You can pause the action at anytime and scroll over a whole level looking at the ideal path that you want to take. Many of the levels do not have a time limit at all, so it becomes easier to manage your zombie control. There are some urgent levels as well, and while I do like some of the tension those levels can bring, I’m glad that it didn’t become a majority of the gameplay.
The difficulty curve did seem somewhat wacky with some levels feeling too difficult, while others would be too easy. Getting stuck and having to overcome a challenge is something that I appreciate, but I appreciate proper pacing just as much. This is an area I feel NoClip could work on to bring a more streamlined and enjoyable experience, rather than having to worry about micromanaging everything.
Overall, Zombie Night Terror is a game you will love if you enjoy the Lemmings series at all. It has a very obviously inspired design, but it does iterate in some ways which keeps the proceedings engaging and interesting. I wish the controls and pacing were handled better by the developers, but you can’t really fault them for taking a clever concept and adding their own twist. Add in some more polish and a more cohesive experience, and Zombie Night Terror could be the next great indie title.