Barely Hanging On
HIGH Streamlined design, cute graphics, solid premise.
LOW The Highway.
WTF Infinitely spawning zombies? Come on.
I like turn-based tactics. I like retro-style graphics. I like zombies. Wanna Survive combines all of these things into one compact package, and it also offers one other thing – steep difficulty.
Coming from Pinix Games in Taiwan, the struggle begins with the player taking control of a single survivor fending off a handful of zombies at a campsite. Gameplay is 2D, grid-based and turn-based. Zombies advance, the player kills or avoids them, and turns progress until a goal is reached – sometimes it’s eradicating the undead, sometimes it’s surviving a certain number of turns, or sometimes the winning strat is to flee the scene. It seems straightforward at first, but there are a few wrinkles.
The player soon discovers other survivors, each with their own traits. The original guy is an ace at melee, and one-shots almost any zombie. The Doctor has a ranged pistol, the father carries a wide-spread shotgun, the Boxer punches and pushes zombies away at the same time, and so on. The graphics are cute, each teammate is easily identifiable at a glance, and the variety is good.
As the group grows, so do the player’s options. However, more people also means more mouths to feed, and between levels any available food must be divvied up. If there’s not enough to go around, those who don’t eat will lose some life before the next mission, meaning they start at a disadvantage. More food can be found by searching levels, but that takes time and turns, and zombies rarely give the player enough breathing room to do a thorough job.
This food scarcity adds pressure to Wanna Survive, and what compounds it is that if a character dies by starvation (or by zombies!) they’re perma-dead. Fewer teammates means battles get tougher, so it’s in the player’s interest to keep everyone kicking.
The developers have accounted for this steep penalty by letting any character undo their last turn, and if things go catastrophic, the player can re-do an entire round of turns – the first major oopsie-repair per level is free, but further mulligans cost in-game resources. The resources aren’t too scarce, and this suite of options was incredibly appreciated as they greatly alleviate frustration. However, frustration is still unavoidable.
Each scenario – a gas station, a cabin, or along a stretch of highway – features a lot of zombies and Wanna Survive doesn’t do much tutorializing. Once things heat up after the first level or two, not knowing certain tricks or use cases can lead to failure after failure after failure until the player figures things out through sheer repetition, or… YouTube.
For example, it’s soon learned that a survivor only takes damage after a zombie grabs them — injury is not immediate. However, it’s not apparent that there are several ways to get a survivor out of an undead’s clutches before they bite. Likewise, certain specific survivor formations offer far better defense than others, shoving objects can have various effects, and I have to admit that it took me far too long to figure out what the value of the dog was. (And no, it’s not petting.)
That knowledge gap wouldn’t be as big an issue if not for one specific design choice – several maps have infinitely respawning zombies.
Up until this point, Wanna Survive is a fantastic little package. It’s got a good mix of scenarios, a great spread of character types, and the moment–to-moment tactics are satisfying when things fall into place. Carving a path to safety with melee strikes and covering everyone’s back with a few well-placed shots feels great. Unfortunately, the neverending horde sections add a bit too much pressure.
Fending off countless foes while trying to make progress and not leaving anyone exposed is a tall order. My worst moments were in these sections when Wanna Survive starts feeling less tactical and more like a puzzle. The harshest pinches seem like they require a specific set of actions or a certain strategy for victory, and without being privy to that info, players can expect to restart countless times.
Despite a few moments of utter despair, I managed to persist and got every single survivor to safety after a few online consultations (shoutout to Tran Plays!) and too many do-overs to count. However, the fact that I wanted to see it through despite the often-brutal difficulty says a lot about the overall quality and design. Wanna Survive is a clever title blending many elements that work well together, but if Pinix would take their foot off the gas just a bit, this small-scale tale of surviving the zombpocalypse would receive a caveat-free recommendation.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Pinix Games and published by Nicalis. It is currently available on PC, iOS and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. The game has a pretty grim tone and survivors can be killed permanently, so things are a bit harsher than the cute pixel graphics may suggest. Even so, it’s not very graphic or bloody — I’d say most kids would be fine seeing this.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no problems. All info comes via text, and the text is not alterable or resizable. No audio cues are needed for play. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, and there is no control diagram. The left stick moves the cursor, the face buttons select and cancel. The R shoulder button is used to end a turn. The L shoulder button undoes the last turn. The + button opens a menu.