Review: Zombie Slayer Diox (3DS eShop)

Dead to us

It's too late. The zombie apocalypse has not only begun, it's already over. The zombies have won, and there are few — if any — survivors other than Diox, who continues to roam the streets, slashing away at the undead with his guitar. Diox is on a mission: if he can find the magical amp, he just might be able to destroy all the remaining zombies at once, with the power of rock and roll.

Are you enticed by that description? We certainly were. Which makes Zombie Slayer Diox a special kind of failure, as it just doesn't seem interested in living up to its can't-miss, tongue-in-cheek premise.

Zombie Slayer Diox — the 'X' is silent, the game helpfully informs us — is a rhythm game mashed up with a zombie brawl-fest, and it's a combination that doesn't quite work. That's mainly because it tips much more heavily in the "rhythm" direction, but doesn't have a strong grasp on what makes that kind of game work.

Stages are broken up into "songs"; while each song plays, Diox walks automatically to the right and must slay every zombie that crosses his path, lest they deal minor damage as they pass. His weapon is a measly guitar, but that's okay as zombies are weak. What's not okay is the control scheme, which is awkward at best and outright awful at worst.

The game is controlled entirely with the touch screen and D-Pad. There's an alternate set up for lefties, but that's where the good news ends. The combination of moves to take down the zombies is far too plentiful and not nearly responsive enough for a game as fast-paced as Zombie Slayer Diox wants to be.

For starters, there are four slashes available to him, each unleashed by sliding your stylus in the appropriate direction: vertical, horizontal, diagonally up and diagonally down. That could make for the basis of a decent rhythm game, but Zombie Slayer Diox requires some sweeping stylus work if it's going to recognise your input properly, and with a large number of zombies speedily closing in on you, you'll need to trust the game to understand your attack and then quickly start tracing the next one. It doesn't always work out that way, and you'll end up taking damage — or failing the song — because Diox wasn't clear on what you asked him to do. In terms of input, Zombie Slayer Diox either needed to accept faster swipes or give you more time to input them. Either would have helped, but neither was implemented in development, and the flow of the game suffer for it.

Additionally, the four types of swipes are further complicated by adding four colours to the mix. Red, green, blue and yellow are all mapped to directions on the D-Pad, and you'll need to hold down the correct colour and swipe in the correct direction in time to the music in order to complete these levels. The zombies each, for some bizarre reason that's never explained, require a particular colour to be taken into consideration before your swipe is even unleashed, and while that could lead to some frantic fun it's actually just a frustrating irritant piled on top of an already picky control scheme. The relationship of the colours to the directions on the D-Pad isn't indicated on the top screen and you won't have time to glance down at the touch screen, so you'd better hope you commit each direction to memory.

It's worth pointing out that the early stages allow for a good deal of error. Each song has a target score that you're expected to reach, but that's in addition to surviving the zombies. In the beginning the target score is low enough that simply surviving will get you through, but before long you'll need to hit all of your direction and colour prompts correctly as well, and that's more of an aggravating demand for perfection than it is a satisfying challenge.

Games like the BIT.TRIP series knew how to turn a punishing experience into a thirst for perfection. Here it's an experience that instead feels like wrestling against shoddy level design, and there's not likely to be many gamers out there thirsty for that.

Presentation is decent; it looks nice enough and the animation is fluid with no noticeable slowdown. The 3D effect might as well not exist, as the game never does anything useful, interesting or impressive with it. Switch it on and the characters will stand out slightly from the background; switch it off and you'll barely notice a difference.

In a rhythm game the songs should shine, or at least feel like an integral part of the experience, but Diox fails on that front as well, as the music is completely forgettable. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it's boilerplate knock-off rock and roll. Whatever you're hearing in your head as you read that sentence is completely accurate in terms of what Diox provides. The levels also don't feel like an organic outgrowth from the music, as they should. It's there, and zombies ideally should be slaughtered to the beat, but you can slash away like a maniac without any regard for what's happening aurally and you'll do just as well.

There's also a free play mode that allows you to slash through any song apart from the story, and there are various guitar picks that function as achievements, are are earned by meeting certain gameplay conditions. Those could potentially lead to providing Zombie Slayer Diox with some replay value, but when it's not exactly worth playing in the first place that point is sort of moot.

Conclusion

Rhythm games and zombie slashers both have the potential to be a lot of fun, but their marriage here in Zombie Slayer Diox is one of conflict, and the weaknesses of both genres are far more vividly on display than the strengths. The music is passable and the visual presentation is clean enough, but the repetitive gameplay and clumsy controls turn the experience into a chore. We could possibly recommend it as a time-waster, but with less expensive and better options already in strong supply in the eShop, there's nothing that merits a special mention for Zombie Slayer Diox.