Throwback platformers are a regular occurence in the video game medium nowadays. As graphics improve in complexity and realism, quirky titles with pixel graphics have become more and more popular as their outdated visuals become increasingly charming. On first impressions, Zombie Incident is a title not dissimilar to the numerous other retro-inspired indie platformers currently on the 3DS eShop - a love letter to a bygone era of Video Game history steeped in vintage charm. What may come as more of a surprise, however, is that Zombie Incident was not only influenced by older technology - it was developed using it.
Zombie Incident was initially developed by a team including NeneFranz in 2011 for the MSXdev'11 contest, a competition giving budding developers the opportunity to develop games using retro hardware. As the contest name suggests, Zombie Incident was developed on the MSX - a system which enjoyed most of its success in Japan, and is most famous for being the home of the first Metal Gear. Having won the contest, the team decided to venture into new, uncharted territories, and with Publisher CoderChild's help Zombie Incident has found itself being ported to the 3DS eShop. Making the transition to a current-gen system has resulted in Zombie Incident maintaining the original's classic gameplay that earned its initial praise, whilst receiving various upgrades that the 3DS's more powerful hardware has to offer.
Controlling Nana, a dumpy sprite version of the leggy anime girl seen in the game's artwork, you must traverse the citadel of Hamartia, the once bustling hub of life which has succumbed to a most terrible fate. As Nana, you must explore all 64 rooms of the forsaken citadel, searching for the eight golden stars that will lift the curse placed onto the citadel and its inhabitants and free the castle of the evil which has engulfed it.
Like many classic platformers the gameplay is extremely simple. It'll be familiar to anyone who fondly remembers NES platformers, as your only abilities are to "run" and "jump" - really only requiring a D-Pad and a button or two. Nana can jump onto the various enemies, which come in the form of zombies and other creepy crawlies, in order to destroy them. Some enemies are immune (which are helpfully colour coded) depending on your level at the time, but jumping on a vulnerable enemy enough times will eventually whittle them down to their skeletons before killing them entirely. Much like the Legend of Zelda series, defeating a certain number of enemies within designated rooms will trigger the unlocking of a door; within some of these unlocked rooms can be found one of eight golden stars, essential to completing the game. While only some of these rooms will bear the desired treasure, each one acts as a save point - allowing you to continue your progress from within that room - essentially making the act of backtracking (which is common) somewhat less arduous.
Nana controls extremely vivaciously and bounds around the castle with great speed and elevation. This also helps to make the exploration less tiresome as you'll find yourself covering ground quickly. Nana also has the ability to scramble up walls by holding the jump button, making higher platforms accessible and allowing vertical progression through the citadel's labyrinth of rooms. Unfortunately, due to the MSX's inability to scroll between screens, jumping vertically between sections can become quite a nauseating experience, as both screens will flash back and forth in the blink of an eye until you find your footing on the next screen. This can also result in you taking hits from the enemies above as there is no way to ease your sprite up gently, and by leaping upwards it's extremely likely you'll crash head first into one of the enemies hovering above. All of this adds to the nostalgic accuracy found throughout the title, but is a frustrating shortcoming nonetheless and makes taking damage extremely regular.
Thankfully, Nana is given an ample amount of hearts upon starting the adventure, meaning that you're able to take quite a fair number of hits before becoming zombified yourself. Defeated enemies will occasionally drop health power ups too, giving you even more of a reason to get stomping when health is running dangerously low. Having such a generous amount of health upon starting up the adventure, and the ability to continue from an unlocked room, is sufficient compensation given by the developers for the faults one is likely to make on behalf of the hardware's imperfections, such as the lack of scrolling between rooms. This results in Zombie Incident feeling a lot fairer and more ironed out than many of the titles developed on platforms such as the MSX back in its heyday.
As previously mentioned, having been ported onto the 3DS has allowed for Zombie Incident to improve both visually and aurally thanks to its makeover. Sprites are sharper and more colourful, and the artwork as a whole almost feels like a composition of 8-bit and 16-bit graphics. The stereoscopic 3D further compliments the visuals, and turning it on causes the sprites to really pop out from the screen. Nana strangely doesn't come to the foreground when 3D is enabled, causing her to hover behind the platforms she should be standing on, however - this is a minor fault and is largely unnoticeable. As well as receiving improved visuals, Zombie Incident receives an absolutely glorious chiptune soundtrack - created especially for the 3DS port. This is an especially nice addition, and helps make the need to backtrack and retrace your steps less of a chore. The ability to earn "high scores" feels outdated in this current age of gaming, but the ability to log those high scores into online leaderboards is a nice modern take on the classic scoring system, and helps improve the re-playability for a title which can be completed in only a few hours.
In developing a game using such classic hardware, CoderChild and the original team have managed to produce an extremely authentic 8-bit experience. However, developing a title so faithful to experiences of the past leads to both wonderful quirks and frustrating flaws, which will irritate players to a degree dependant on their outlook. For the most part, Zombie Incident turns out to be an extremely enjoyable throwback platformer with highly addictive gameplay. What faults the gameplay does possess due to its antiquated design are eclipsed by its wonderful visuals, highly addictive gameplay and sublime chip tune soundtrack. The addition of online leaderboards further modernises the classic gameplay, and for the meagre price Zombie Incident is a frightfully fun addition to anyone's eShop library.