ZAMB! Redux Review

By Kevin Tavore,
ZAMB! Redux. It’s a flashy name that really tells you nothing about the game on face value. “Zamb” is a made-up word and “Redux” means it’s coming back, but few Xbox players ever heard of the original Zamb! anyway, so that doesn’t help much either. After putting the game through its paces, I’ll admit I still don’t know what “Zamb” means or why the game is called what it is. What I do know is that this mish-mash of twin-stick shooter and tower defense is part of a rising indie genre and in that hierarchy, Zamb! unfortunately isn’t going to rise to the top of anyone’s favorites list.

ZAMB! Redux

The only place the word “Zamb” makes any sense is in the context of its story and general aesthetic. The game is designed, at least partially, as a comic book. “Zamb” sounds like a comic book word — a bit of onomatopoeia that might appear right alongside “POW!” The story is told entirely through an opening cutscene that plays before the start screen. Our heroes, Cye and Chrome, are special agents taking down an evil genius who created some biomutants. Spoiler: that’s it. We never learn a single thing about these characters so the only thing we know about them is what they look like and their job. The same goes with that evil genius and his mutants. A game in this genre doesn’t have to deliver a compelling story to be a fun game, but it sure would have been nice to have something more if they were going to try at all.

The gameplay is simple. You play as one character and the other is controlled by an AI or your friend in local co-op. You use weapons to kill, build a few turrets and use special powers to defeat waves of enemies that march along set paths. As you kill, you level up which unlocks more abilities and more turrets for each of your people and theoretically you mix and match combos to overcome your enemies. The problem is that it’s just all so dull.

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As a twin-stick shooter, the game is dreadfully slow. You won’t find yourself zig-zagging through narrow pathways to avoid shots while wreaking havoc upon your enemies. Instead, you’ll either use Chrome, who fires an abominably slow machine gun that does a paltry amount of damage, or Cye, who uses dual energy swords he stole from the Halo series to engage in melee combat that is equally slow and low-impact. Cye’s unique aspect is his ability to use special moves, so occasionally you’ll let out torrents of electricity, place traps or lob an energy orb at enemies. This part is actually pretty fun. But mostly you’ll walk around the map killing enemies slowly and genuinely hoping the game will end.

Chrome’s ability allows him to place turrets, so the game is also tower defense. These likewise don’t work. The turrets have health and just about all of them lack the range to hit ranged enemies. This means that your turrets feel entirely pointless as anything other than a distraction keeping the enemies away from their objective until Cye can run over and kill them. I tried to set up intelligent defenses to hold the waves at bay but it gets pretty frustrating when all your towers are destroyed before they get attacked. In the end, I just found a select few turrets that weren’t awful and placed them with little strategy at all. That’s profane to any fans of the tower defense genre.

The game attempts to meld these two genres into one using combos and different types of enemies. Combos trigger pretty much constantly whenever you use Cye’s abilities on a target that a turret has attacked. As far as I can tell, they do nothing and certainly aren’t needed to beat levels with efficiency. They are required if you want to 6-star each level, but since you’ll be bored and there’s no achievement for it, it’s likely you won’t care how many stars you get and so combos will be an afterthought. It means the game's combat itself isn't very fun, but it's not bad either and the game's biggest sin remains that it's simply too easy.

Screenshot

Quality level design should be sacrosanct in a tower defense game, but here it is miserable. At no point was I ever challenged to think strategically. I was not surprised or intrigued. The levels were all different and they all felt the exact same. The only time anything ever changed were the three boss battles, which were at least moderately compelling enough to call truly fun. Otherwise, I couldn’t pick one level from another and I moved between them in a cloud of boredom.

The achievements are luckily quite easy, which means some people will certainly buy this on sale. You’ll need to complete every level, a task which will only take a few hours. Then you’ll need to grind to level up your characters. This will take some time too, but ultimately you need not expect it to be a major obstacle. Otherwise, there are a host of achievements that will likely all come with natural play, especially if you keep them in mind even a little bit.

Summary

ZAMB! Redux is a game inspired by the look of a comic book, but without any of the fun. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, but it is certainly a boring one. The components of this twin-stick tower defense game fall apart quite quickly, offering nothing that the average contemporary doesn’t do as well or better. Combat is slow, easy and forgettable. The strategy required to place towers thoughtfully is basically as non-existent as the quality of the level design, which will never keep you interested. As a saving grace, the game can be fun when you’re throwing out abilities into hordes of enemies and the boss battles are interesting, if not difficult. “ZAMB!” sounds like an exciting pop, but I’ve come to realize that in this comic book it signals one deadening idea: boredom.
2 / 5
ZAMB! Redux
Positives
  • If you try to take advantage of all the mechanics, the game can be fun in bursts
  • Boss fights are interesting and mix things up
Negatives
  • Far too easy
  • Almost no strategy required for the tower defense portion
  • Level design is not interesting
  • Combat is too slow
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 4 hours blasting through the entire game. Along the way he unlocked 13 of the 18 achievements for 540 Gamerscore. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.