Review: Pet Zombies

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Every year gamers around the world maim, mutilate and abuse millions upon millions of zombies. Indeed, the shambling brain gobblers have become the favorite target for gamer geek rage, whether it’s in horror games like Resident Evil, cheesy slasher games like Dead Rising, arcade-style romps like Dead Nation and Zombie Apocalypse, light gun shooters like House of the Dead, or FPSs like Left 4 Dead and even Call of Duty.

Not to sound like one of those sappy (but noble) child or animal rescue commercials often seen on TV, but zombies deserve a better life. They are people after all – or at least they were. Why not adopt a zombie–or five–of your own and show the world that gamers can raise the dead with love and affection? And by affection I do mean the motherly nurturing that only a good shock collar or flaming torch can provide.

Pet Zombies, a clever parody on pet raising simulations like Nintendogs, is the first game (that I know of at least) that allows you to adopt and care for your very own zombie like a regular family pet. You begin by first adopting a zombie from one of eight stereotype templates: Jock, Scientist, Clown, Prom Queen, Cook, Waitress, Nerd and Granny. Then you select a face type, from gross choices like “chronic face-goo” and “blotches galore,” and a clothing color scheme, finalizing the adoption process by giving your new undead pet a name. My first zombie was a chef, face type “fun with skin-grafts,” named Gordon Brainsay (abbreviated of course since the name entry doesn’t allow that many letters).

From the adoption lab, it’s off to the zombie’s play room, initially set on a rundown street corner with other options unlockable later on down the road, including a graveyard, science lab, food court and so on. While in the play room, your zombie shambles around the top screen, not a care in the world, completely oblivious to the pain about to be inflicted upon it. On the bottom screen is a rectangular map of the area and an item menu with toys, food and torture tools to choose from, and using the stylus you select an object and go to town.

You can attempt to play catch using a tennis or beach ball, but a zombie’s motor skills aren’t so hot so you’ll routinely hit them in the face and watch as they scamper off to fetch and ultimately gobble down what they think is a brain. Then when you really want to have fun, open the tools menu and tease zombies into dizziness with a laser pointer or, meaner still, grab a voodoo doll and poke zombies in the eye, make them slap themselves in the face, or repeatedly jab them in the stomach until they vomit putrid green goo.

As you nurture and abuse your adorably happy-go-lucky walking corpse companion, its level increases to a maximum of 20, and with each level a new item, play room location, mini-game, or cage for an additional zombie (you can eventually adopt as many as five) becomes unlocked. You also earn badges and trophies for accomplishing certain torture/nurture objectives, and there are five different mini-games you’ll need to participate in regularly to pile up enough zombucks to purchase the latest zombie care products.

The mini-games are actually kind of fun too. Zombie Launch involves flinging a zombie into a field of floating coins using a giant slingshot, and in Backyard Bullseye your zombie holds a target on a stick for you to pelt with random objects. And then there is Stomach Pumpin’, a zombified version of the board game Operation in which you drag random objects through a zombie’s labyrinthine digestive tract without touching the intestinal wall. Its stomach fills up with acid as time goes by, and if you don’t stop it from building your zombie pukes right at you from the 3D top screen. Speaking of which, the game’s graphics are surprisingly sharp, and the 3D slider pulls off some fairly impressive depth of field and lighting effects.

Pet Zombies is slapstick comedy, but as you might expect, the game has limited staying power. Mercilessly taunting and tormenting zombies is a riot, but only for an extremely brief period of time. Quickly you’ll discover that zombies just aren’t that fun to play with. Once you’ve set them on fire or shocked them with a cattle prod a few times, there isn’t a whole lot left to see or do. As you unlock new tools and toys, you’ll also find that many of the objects are repeats of old ones, just in a different skin (there are five different RC cars, for example). About the only surprise you’ll ever find is returning to your game to be told that your zombie snuck out and ate a neighbor’s cat while you were gone. You don’t gain anything, but these events are funny and unexpected.

Another huge—and I mean huge—problem I soon discovered is a game-breaking exploit that allows you to instantly cheat a zombie to the level cap. Once you’ve leveled up your first zombie enough to unlock the teddy bear toy, you can throw it at any zombie you’ve adopted to instantly raise its level to 20. I stumbled upon this once I had my first zombie up around level 11 or 12, and after that I tested the cheat on four other zombies — each shot from level 1 to 20 in the flick of the stylus.

Within a matter of minutes and with no effort, I had unlocked every item and mini-game available – although I still had to play on for zombucks to be able to afford all of it. The game does have a cheat entry in the options menu, so I’m guessing the developers must’ve accidentally left some kind of cheat code permanently active. In a strange way it’s almost kind of a good thing to be able to have everything unlocked so quickly. But in a game that is already pretty damn shallow, having such a broken system of progression is ultimately an unforgivable flaw.

The novelty of Pet Zombies is great for a few laughs, but after an hour or two, once the silliness of the concept has played itself out, you’re left with a game that doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. I’d love to see Majesco put this game out as a cheap Nintendo eShop app, because for a few bucks it would be an oddity worth having around for quick sessions of zombie torture and undead mini-game mayhem. Morbid curiosity aside, there simply isn’t enough longevity or value for me to be able to recommend this game as is.

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Pros:
+ Nice graphics and good use of 3D
+ Mini-games offer short-burst zombie fun
+ Torturing zombies is good for a quick laugh

Cons:
– Wears thin fast
– Zombies don’t have enough personality to keep you engaged
– Serious exploit wrecks level progression

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: 1st Playable Productions
Release Date: 10/18/2011
Genre: Simulation
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!