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Alien Zombie Megadeath

Joining the crowded fray of twin-stick shooters, Alien Zombie Megadeath is the simple tale of aliens, zombies and ‘megadeath’ – no, not the heavy metal band. What this effectively means is, everything is out to get you. Logically, your only rational response should be the indiscriminate dispersal of ‘megadeath’ on anything that gets in your way, because, quite frankly, vanilla death simply won’t cut it here.

Derived from PomPom Games’ PlayStation 3 and PSP Mini, Alien Zombie Death, Megadeath is a straightforward kill or be killed survival shooter. Waves of alien creatures, including bats, amoebas, blobs, and other sorts of ‘zombie’ critters, spawn at various points in the playing field with the sole purpose of killing you. Rather than having free reign over the stage like most twin-stick affairs, Megadeath breaks the level up into several rows that can be jumped between, which gives the game a unique infusion of platform mechanics.

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Like other similar shooters, the emphasis is on eradicating enemies before they corner you, damage you, and finally, kill you. Megadeath is at its most fun when the player seemingly has no window of escape, cornered by aliens, environmental traps and incoming projectiles, but somehow, inexplicably is still able to chart a damage free route to safety. By this regard, Alien Zombie Megadeath owes as much to bullet hell games and shmups as it does Geometry Wars or Super Stardust HD, since the player’s avatar feels a lot more agile, while still being constrained to what is essentially a 2D grid.

Progression in Alien Zombie Megadeath isn’t only connected to stage completion, but also earning medals that are awarded for specific challenges within each stage. For the first half of the game most players should easily grab two of the four medals per stage upon completion; the second half, however, will likely require multiple, focused attempts at certain goals. Alien Zombie Megadeath does a good job of easing players in, introducing the various alternate stage types gradually, which include highlights like bomb defusing and space baby chaperoning. But, make no mistake, this is a hardcore arcade experience and by the latter portion it challenges and tests patience in equal measures.

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The most aggravating aspect is playing for high-score medals. In ‘Alpha’ stages, which are effectively non-Adventure bonus stages, there is no set amount of time or enemies to spawn, making the level effectively a survival stage. These levels are easily the most engaging, letting your skill to survive be put to the test. This isn’t the case during Adventure stages; killing everything, grabbing every crystal and taking no damage is often not nearly enough for the medal. Instead, enemies need to be baited, making it easier to collect their crystals upon death, and large crystals need to be left alone momentarily, free to emit smaller crystals before being pocketed. What makes this even more frustrating, the game will occasionally spawn fewer crystals and UFOs – bonus enemies that are high in point value – per round than it ought to, which makes a high-score run virtually impossible.

Garnering a high-score is dependent on building up a robust multiplier, which hinges on a meter filled by crystals. Having to micromanage enemies and crystals to harvest the requisite multiplier adds an extra layer of strategy, but it also significantly changes the game dynamic away from survival. Weaving through enemies and projectiles by the skin of your teeth is clearly where Alien Zombie Megadeath shines and corralling enemies for crystals de-emphasizes that.

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Bucking the trend of indie PlayStation Network titles not supporting online multiplayer, Megadeath has both online and offline co-op for two players. Considering how manic the game is with one player, you can expect an appropriately crazy experience with two – assuming you’re playing at home. While PomPom can’t be faulted for the lack of a community, it seems like no one is playing online. Over the half-dozen sittings it took to beat the game, I couldn’t once find an available game.

With just enough new content to differentiate it, Alien Zombie Megadeath is an enjoyable, lengthy twin-stick shooting affair. Restricting the player to platforms creates a unique dynamic in the genre and adds a fresh element of bullet hell. Unfortunately, some of that experience is soured by the multiplier and medal systems, which don’t focus nearly enough on the game’s main strength: survival.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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