Review: Undead Knights

UndeadKnights.jpg No, Undead Knights is not a horror game. But it does have zombies. Lots of zombies, in fact. And lots of blood too. Oh, and the word “Undead” is in the title, so I’d say all that qualifies the game for inclusion in our Halloween-themed review marathon today.

Undead Knights can also be a lot of fun. Tecmo’s new under-the-radar PSP game is a kooky mash-up of Dynasty Warriors hack-‘n-slash and Overlord minion control with a goofy Middle Ages plot, hard-rocking music, loads of zombie humor and a purposeful not-to-be-taken-seriously sense about it. Oh, and did I mention it’s drenched in buckets of blood? Blood that spurts out of enemies by the quart and spatters all over the screen? Well, it is!

By and large, Undead Knights is a formulaic hack-‘n-slash game. As one of three playable characters – Romulus, Remus and Sylvia — you charge through 20 stages repeating the following cycle: move into area, kill hordes of enemy soldiers until the barrier blocking the path to the next area is destroyed, move to the next area, hack up some more enemies, et cetera, et cetera.

Before each mission you get to choose your character and a level of difficulty, and each character has their own strengths and weaknesses. Romulus, who appears as the cover star on the game box, is slow but has a large sword and does the most damage, while his brother Remus dual wields rapiers and relies on his quickness rather than brute force. Sylvia fits somewhere in between, using her deadly scythe for clearing crowds. In between stages, all three characters can also be upgraded with increased health, attack boosts, extra combos and other abilities using Dark Energy you’ve amassed based on mission performance.

What’s unique about Undead Knights compared to Dynasty Warriors and games of that ilk, however, is its ingenious zombie mutation mechanic. As enemies near death and begin glowing red, you can press the Circle button to grab the enemy and turn them into a zombie… a zombie that will then turn around and fight on your behalf. Your zombie minions do more than just fight, though. You can pick them up and throw them at enemies to stun them or hold down the right shoulder button to bring up a targeting reticule you can use to sick your entire army of zombies after a specific target. Using your zombies is also important in clearing various environmental puzzles, like sacrificing their bodies to form bridges or break traps so you can proceed, many of which require simple QTEs (Quick Time Events) to enact. Basically, the zombies are there to be your bitches, doing anything you need them to do to ease your progression.

But unfortunately, as is often the case with hack-‘n-slash games, Undead Knights lacks the depth and variety necessary to hold your attention over the long haul. It took me roughly seven hours to complete the campaign — which is pretty long for this type of game — but around halfway through I felt like I’d seen and done everything. Graphically, the game is fairly sharp, however the enemy and level designs are pretty bland and get recycled a lot throughout the game, and many of the zombie-based puzzles repeat regularly as well. You also wind up hearing the same rock riffs blaring in the background, the same gushy slashing sounds, and the same vulgar one-liners over and over.

A few minor camera and control quirks also prove problematic. With so many enemies and zombies regularly on screen at the same time, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. The camera doesn’t do a great job keeping itself from getting stuck around corners either, so if you get caught along the border of a map your view can easily become obstructed by walls and other objects. For the most part the gameplay controls well, but the more I played the more I felt like I needed some form of lock-on targeting system. In large crowds I regularly found myself grabbing a zombie when I wanted to grab a weakened enemy or veering off course in the middle of a combo and attacking nothing but thin air.

Even with these warts, though, Undead Knights is a game I feel safe in recommending. It’s core hack-‘n-slash mechanics are easy to pick up and vent some frustration with, and the game’s dark sense of humor, over-the-top gore and clever zombie control system are sure to put a smile on your face. However, longevity is my main concern with this one, so you’ll want to try the PSN demo or rent it first before determining whether or not it’s a game you’ll want to hang onto. I should also mention before closing that the game does offer a few simple 2-4-player Ad Hoc mini-games to compete in. I wasn’t able to test that part of the game myself, but they sure sound like a hoot and if you have friends around they may provide additional play time. Either way, Undead Knights is worth checking out all the same.

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Pros:
+ Satisfying, bloody hack-‘n-slash gameplay
+ Turning enemies into zombies is a lot of fun
+ Some clever zombie puzzles
+ Doesn’t take itself too seriously

Cons:
– Lacks variety across the board
– Camera has trouble giving you a clear view sometimes
– Needs a lock-on mechanic

Game Info:
Platform: PSP (UMD and PSN)
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: 9/29/09
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4 (Ad Hoc only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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!