Endless Zombies, Endless Butchery

HIGH Picking up zombies and using them as a club to smash other zombies.

LOW The boss whose whole mechanic simply doesn’t work.

WTF I just got that boss so drunk he had to spend ten seconds vomiting all over the arena.

Set in an alternate-history Japan in which Admiral Perry’s black ships brought a zombie plague, Ed-0 Zombie Uprising traps a samurai inside a magical time loop, forcing the player to venture ceaselessly out into a world overrun with the undead, hoping to find a way to save the world from this horrible curse.

A mixture of Tenchu and Bikini Zombie Slayers with a roguelike structure, Ed-0 Zombie Uprising‘s third-person realtime combat gameplay is every bit as confusing and muddled as its influences would suggest.

Players start a run by picking from a set of unlocked areas, including a haunted forest, zombie-filled mansion and rural farmland, then drop into the zombie-packed zones completely unprepared for what they’re going to face. Proudly functioning as a true roguelike, the player goes into each new run woefully underpowered, barely able to take on even a handful of zombies at a time, and success will be determined almost entirely by which skills they luck into finding.

Special abilities are the bread and butter of the combat mechanics. While each of the three classes – Samurai, Sumo, and Ninja – each have perfectly functional basic, strong, and leaping attacks, enemies are so numerous and powerful that even the most skilled player will falter quickly under their onslaught. Progress is only possible when leaning heavily on special attacks, four of which can be used at a time, but they can’t be swapped – once a skill is equipped it must be destroyed to be replaced. There’s no moving powers back to the satchel for later use, no matter how helpful that would be.

These found skills heighten each character’s abilities to an impressive extent, transforming them into brutal monstrosities that can decimate zombie hordes in an instant… or at least, some skills can. Sadly, many of them are duds, some are useful only in extremely rare situations, and some have no obvious use at all, like bowing respectfully to enemies. (It’s possible there’s a time and a place for that one, but the only thing it ever got me was bitten.)

Each of the classes is focused on a different specialty. The samurai is best at one-on-one duels with powerful single enemies, turning aside their attacks and punishing them for the attempt. The sumo can absolutely wreck hordes, wiping out huge numbers simultaneously with devastating throws. The ninja is great at avoiding damage while utilizing powerful magic to stun and trap enemies, leaving them open for execution. Ed-0‘s problem is that the player isn’t able to swap between these characters freely, instead committing to one at the start of each run.

Since each run features situations that all three classes specialize in, character selection becomes a game of triage – choose the specialty the player is best at and hope that the situations fall in their favor, or pick one that makes up for their shortcomings and try to cover their bases? There’s no good answer here, and I spent dozens of hours trying to find one.

In addition to the skills that appear randomly, players can power up by equipping talismans that offer specific effects, from the mundane (500 extra hit points) to the exotic (the player is constantly drunk or on fire). These function similarly to the scrolls and potions that are found in classic roguelikes and -lites, to the point that if the player increases the game’s difficulty past Normal, the talismans will suddenly become unlabeled, forcing the player to either search for an identify scroll or blindly hope that they found something that boosts attack power, and not one that halves their movement speed.

Levels are also littered with consumable items to be used at the player’s discretion, and it’s in these items that Ed-0 really embraces the experimental fun of its roguelite roots. The hook? Any item that effects the player will have the same effect on non-boss enemies if thrown at them. A jug of sake will get an enemy just as drunk as it will the sumo, and a weakening talisman will sap as much strength from a giant zombie as it will from the heroic samurai.

There are also clever combinations available – rice balls and cuts of meat are more nourishing when cooked, so normally the player will be forced to go searching for an open flame. Unless, of course, they run into a terrifying flaming zombie! Simply toss the food at them and it will immediately increase in nutritional value – then, when cooking is done, douse them with a jar of water, transforming them back into a regular zombie that’s easy to cut down. It’s rare to see this kind of breadth of interactivity in what’s otherwise a fairly standard brawler, and this kind of genre innovation is very welcome.

Another place where Ed-0 innovates is level design. Things start with an unimpressive setting — a claustrophobic forest followed by a claustrophobic mansion followed by a claustrophobic castle, with the player running through identical hallways into fairly similar open rooms before the next hallway. Once they reach level 4, however, the stages massively open up and offer huge fields absolutely swarming with zombies, followed by burning cityscapes and a harshly windy chasm full of deadly drops. I was blown away not only by the variety on offer, but by the huge impacts they had on my strategy. such as?

Unfortunately, I had to stop at the chasm cliffside because of Ed-0‘s fatal flaw — it has some of the most poorly-designed boss fights I’ve encountered in recent memory.

They start out decently enough with a large, strong zombie, followed by a zombie that can scream and summon other zombies. Pretty standard stuff. Then things get bad, fast, with a steampunk zombie giant that’s impervious to damage. All of the skills the player has spent the whole run collecting and upgrading? Suddenly they’re worthless, as the only way to inflict damage is by throwing bombs at his head, and these bombs can only be acquired by letting zombies throw them at the player, then picking them up in the brief window before they explode. Also, due to a quirk of the hitboxes, the bombs only damage him about a third of the time. It’s terrible. his is followed by a flying zombie who only attacks with dropped bombs that are super-easy to dodge, or a particle beam that can be defeated by standing behind a rock.

After that is an ill-advised base defense sequence where the player has to stop too many zombies from crossing a bridge. The combat mechanics simply aren’t built with this kind of area control in mind, and I was only able to defeat this one by redoing the run until I’d lucked into collecting a bunch of portable whirlwinds to cheese my way through all the wave.

I’d actually considered giving up on Ed-0 at that point, but what finally drove away was the next boss, a giant poison tiger which is basically a Monster Hunter enemy. The camera can’t track fast enough to follow its movements, and the dodge function doesn’t send the player far enough to avoid its many unblockable attacks. After multiple attempts at facing it with different characters and strategies, I came to the conclusion that I simply wasn’t ever going to get past it, and began to suspect that the failure wasn’t entirely my fault.

These rough spots are a real shame, as there’s otherwise so much to recommend about Ed-0 Zombie Uprising. It’s an unusually well-paced roguelite that offers hour-long runs with enough skill involved so that it never feels like randomness is blocking a player from having a good experience. Without those terrible bosses, I’d consider Ed-0 a bold experiment that paid off impressively — but it does have those bosses, so I can’t think of it as anything other than a tragic failure.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by LANCARSE and published by D3 Publisher. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was rated M by the ESRB. It features Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Use of Alcohol. No kids allowed, obviously – this is a game largely about disassembling zombies with swords or brute force. The alcohol label is also is accurate. Both the player and enemies can become intoxicated using items, which makes them walk unevenly and regularly fall down.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without audio and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled and all vital information is provided visually. Subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully remappable.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Jason Ricardo
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