Review: Zombie Rogue

By Rosh Kelly 23 May 2018 3

Review: Zombie Rogue

Released 27 Apr 2018

Developer: Dogfish Studio
Available from:
App Store
Google Play
Reviewed on: Samsung Galaxy S8

Zombie Rogue has an ambiguous opening. There are no introductions to the game, the story or the mechanics besides a simple menu. The first character you meet as you spawn does little more than advise you to open a box. Zombie Rogue is a turn-based roguelike, but that’s all it’s willing to tell you from the beginning.

When I first started playing, I nearly died in the starting room as I explored, unaware a deadly infection was coursing through my characters vein. The zombie trope might be a dime a dozen in the mobile marketplace, Zombie Rogue at least freshens up the formula by having you fight both an internal and external zombie threat. 

Zomrogue1

As a mechanic, it keeps you moving, exploring and looting rooms, but first you have to know what it is and how to combat it. To stay alive, you have to seek out a steady stream of pills to keep death at bay.

But that isn’t the only thing that might end your adventure early. On top of the infection, there’s the actual zombies, robots and the occasional boss. The map, which naturally changes with each death, is divided into narrow corridors and larger open rooms. These rooms offer enemy encounters and items. The corridors are for the most part bare but can become death traps if you leave a trail of the living undead shuffling behind you. Each floor also has an exit, which is your ultimate goal and takes you to the next randomised level. It’s a system that we’ve all seen before, but despite its smooth animation and nice pixel art, the game feels almost patchwork.

An NPC in the starting lab has a striking resemblance to one of the world’s most famous robots, which as far as I could tell, exists for no reason at all. It’s not the only out-of-the-blue reference in the Zombie Rogue, but they all seem so unconnected from the rest of the game you find yourself wondering why they are there at all. Zombie Rogue is far from serious, but it doesn’t seem to have a coherent vein of comedy either, or anything else for that matter. From the very first stages you’ll encounter killer robots alongside the more traditional zombie, holy hand grenades and weaponised eggs. There is no real connecting theme to anything, no matter what way round you look at it.

Zomrogue2It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, and maybe that was one of the signs that this game didn’t have the distinctive draw it needed. On paper there was a lot to enjoy, and the pick up and play, short bursts of the game felt perfect for a few idle minutes here and there. But in all honesty, I had to remember to play it sometimes. Without a connecting motif, or anything else, there just isn’t much to bring you in. Even the display feels uninspired, with huge black voids above and below the game map. On my Galaxy S8, it just looked empty.

The combat is equally bland. It’s nothing complicated or complex: you just tap the zombie until its dead. Maybe you’ll go into your inventory and equip a weapon or heal, but there isn’t much in the way of tactics. A good proportion of your attacks will miss, making you click twice as much to kill an enemy. The weapons degrade a little too quickly as well and with the randomness of the drops, some runs might feel painfully under-powered. In your inventory you can see the damage your weapons deal in like an old pen and paper RPG, and it adds a nice touch, but the weapons don’t last nearly long enough to grow attached to. Outside of combat the turns are much more relaxed and you don’t have to worry about moving one tile at a time.

Everything you do in is exactly what you would expect from a roguelike. You fight and loot and explore and repeat, but you rarely feel like you’re progressing with each attempt. Skills aren’t needed to play and its just a game of chance if you’ll encounter the necessary tools needed to succeed. Victory and defeat stir no strong emotions in Zombie Rogue, as you never feel like you put any effort in to begin with.

Zomrogue3It feels unobtrusive, almost like Zombie Rogue is to scared to demand your attention. The pixel artwork looks well balanced between detailed and simple, but the dingy colour palette feels remarkably unremarkable. Without the captivating appeal of a nice bright colour scheme or attention-grabbing animation, it falls to the soundtrack to hold the players attention beyond the work of the simple repetitive gameplay. Unfortunately, this is not the game nor the genre to use audio in such a way. The music slips just over the side from inoffensive to mildly annoying, and I can’t imagine anyone willingly listening to it as they play.

Zombie Rogue works exactly as designed, so it’s not a ‘bad’ game in that sense. There was never any stutter or meander from what the developers clearly intended. With that however, comes the realisation that there is just nothing here that creates a sense of enjoyment. The references are too surreal and disjointed to create anything meaningful. The combat is efficient but wholly uninteresting. The empty spaces at the sides of the screen scream out for this game to be ignored. In the end, Zombie Rogue is a bland but functional toy for idle hands.

While there's nothing technically wrong with Zombie Rogue's bare sub-par soundtrack and boring combat, nothing much feels right with it either.

Review: Zombie Rogue

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