Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX is a rare breed on the 3DS, as shooters are rapidly becoming less and less common on the handheld machine. It's not the first time that this has arrived on Nintendo hardware, either, as it initially appeared as a WiiWare title; as the DX in the name suggests, this aims to tempt us in for more.
There are two playable modes in this title, simply titled Story and Arcade. In Arcade mode you initially play as Momotaro, a chap with questionable fashion choices, no backstory, and a personality comparable to wallpaper paste. Your job is to gun down as many zombies as you can manage without too many getting past you or taking all of your extremely limited health away. The Story mode is identical with the exception of having somewhat irritating little cutscenes to tie your journey together; you can also unlock additional characters in this mode, but the differences between them are so minimal it's not really worth it. The controls are very reminiscent of Metroid Prime: Hunters for the DS and make the most of the touch screen capabilities of the 3DS. There is also a control scheme that uses just the physical buttons, but it's not worth giving the time of day in comparison to the stylus-based alternative.
Presentation wise, the game is very appealing. Lots of bold, bright colours scatter the screen at most times and the inspiration from classic fantasy tales is a nice touch. The array of unlockable characters are all young ladies with short, billowing skirts, but thankfully most of their raunchiness is implied rather than explicit. This is just one element where the game is perhaps a bit too tongue-in-cheek at times, and attempts at comedy generally fall flat on their face. In one boss battle, you fight an oversized version of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, who attempts to attack you by felling trees onto you, throwing axes in your direction, and firing multiple rockets from his crotch whilst murmuring 'oh yeah'. These feel out of place and frankly unnecessary given the childish source material, and tarnishes an otherwise beautifully presented game.
The game itself is a rather brutal experience, but this is one of its strongest assets. You essentially have two lives — each capable of only taking a handful of hits from foes — and no checkpoints. If you die twice, it's game over and you have to start the whole Story mode all over again. You can pick up where you left off in Arcade mode, but you're required to unlock most of the levels in Story mode first, so if you're not good enough to beat a difficult level you're not going to get any further. This lack of checkpoints harks back to many old arcade shooters that would try and extract as much money as possible from you, and with only one difficulty setting you'd better be prepared to try and try again.
Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX is a well-presented, difficult game with solid gameplay. Unfortunately the experience isn't as lasting or as engaging as perhaps it could be, and given that it's almost identical to its WiiWare predecessor, the audience for this title is small and niche. If you're an arcade fan looking for a challenge that can sometimes be a bit cruel, then this could be for you. If you feel otherwise, download with caution.