February 16th, 2012 | By Charles Battersby
If a zombie is great, then surely THREE zombies are even better! That’s the thinking behind the action platformer Three Dead Zed by Gentleman Squid. Players control a zombie who has the power to transform between three different bodies at will. While this might seem like a cool set of super-powers, this undead beast is actually the misshapen victim of a fiendish experiment and players must use the various powers of the three forms to escape from the people responsible.
The whole idea is actually played for laughs and the zombies eventually find themselves on a ridiculous quest to rescue cats with tinfoil hats. Sure, it’s violent and gory, but even the gore is farcical, with exaggerated splatter effects and body parts flying around.
The hand-drawn art is similar to what’s seen in Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, while the story and tone are rather reminiscent of ‘Splosion Man. Players will also see some similarities to Trine in the gameplay too, what with the swapping between three different characters with different abilities.
While it’s all very familiar, the designers at Gentleman Squid are drawing from some very good inspirations and the final result is an entertaining game. While players can switch between the three bodies at will, the trick is for them to figure out which character has the ability to circumvent the current obstacle, then do so while making perilous jumps and fighting enemies.
There’s a fast-moving quadruped zombie form that can run faster than the other two and it has superior jumping skills including an all-important wall jump. He can’t fight at all, and many situations require players to make a series of difficult jumps to reach an enemy, then quickly switch to one of the other characters for combat.
There’s also a huge female brute who can smash through walls and throw large items. She’s also great at clobbering bad guys, but she moves terribly slow. Players will need to change into her at the last second because she can be brought down by projectiles while slowly shambling towards her targets.
Finally there’s the middle ground zombie who can move decently and attack reasonably well, but is also the only character who can flip switches or climb ladders. Often levels will need for players to make a wall jump as the quadruped, then switch form mid-air to grab a ladder.
Character design is terrific. One of the zombies is clearly missing the entire back of his head, and I’m very glad to see that the Tank character is female, rather than using the standard “Men are strong, Women are agile” concept. She’s also hideous, completely avoiding the typical sexy female character cliche.
Aside from enemies to fight, players will also encounter innocent civilians who can serve as snacks; kill one of these poor saps and the reward is a delicious brain that functions as a health power-up. Again, the design is great; some of these helpless victims are little old ladies with walkers who’ll shriek in terror and try to hobble away as the player approaches. But, of course, all of this horror and mayhem ends up being quite humorous – especially when someone runs away in a panic and gets themselves killed by a nearby giant sawblade.
Three Dead Zed starts out very well with a tutorial that not only explains how to control each character, but also gets the story going. The premise behind the tutorial levels is that the zombies are test subjects in the lab that created them and are being put through levels as part of an experiment to create and train zombie super-soldiers. Over the course of this test, the player is telepathically contacted by a mysterious mentor who helps guide the undead trio in an escape attempt. Once through the tutorial, the zombies find themselves on a mission to bring down the zombie-making organization (of course this involves cats in metal hats).
While it is a lot of fun, problems start showing up pretty quickly. Mainly, Three Dead Zed is very repetitive. Once past the tutorial, very little is introduced. While players will be expected to master the abilities of the three characters, and learn to quickly switch between them, there aren’t many new mechanics to play with. Combat is essentially just hammering the attack button, or occasionally throwing a heavy object. Some new enemy types show up to offer more challenge in combat but the combat generally boils down to quickly approaching the foes, then pounding them once within melee range.
The platforming sequences become much more difficult as the game progresses. It uses a checkpoint system and there are unlimited lives, but Three Dead Zed is still likely to be very tough for gamers who aren’t fans of platformers. It’s also a little buggy. The zombies can get stuck in walls, and sometime animations won’t trigger if there isn’t enough room. This is a minor issue, but it does add to the frustration.
There’s not a whole lot of replay value as most obstacles can only be beaten by one zombie, but there are hidden files on computers placed throughout the levels so that will provide a small bit of incentive to play through again.
Three Dead Zed isn’t very long, so these flaws probably won’t keep players from finishing the game and it shouldn’t outstay its welcome. The process of dying is actually very entertaining as the zombies are squished and exploded by the various hazards. The designers do seem to very aware that some of the levels are a little too challenging and they have been thoughtful enough to include a menu option for “Rage Quit”.
This is a very creative, funny game that gives players the chance to help zombies finally get some payback. Players who enjoy 2D platformers and have a few evenings to spend chomping on brains should take a look. Three Dead Zed is available now for PC and Mac on Desura with a Linux version on the way.
You can find out more information about Three Dead Zed on the official website.