Release Date: March 26, 2009
At first glance, Burn Zombie Burn appears to combine two things that we've seen far too much of lately: zombies and twin stick shooters. Thankfully, this is not the case. The right thumbstick is almost never used, and the game handles zombies in such a delightfully different way that it ends up seeming fresh. On top of that, Burn Zombie Burn is a polished and well-executed game that has plenty of content, and it's also a lot of fun to play.
Burn Zombie Burn puts you in the role of Bruce, a man who would be the offspring of Bruce Campbell and Elvis ... in the 1950s. Playing as Bruce, you'll be tackling an endless swarm of zombies over the game's six levels. It plays as a top-down shooter, where you'll be running, strafing, dropping bombs and shooting zombies all in the name of points. Your progression involves complete and utter mastery of killing zombies and maximizing your score per zombie kill.
While most shooters are content to increase your multiplier if you get a large sum of kills in a few seconds or increase your multiplier the longer you stay alive, Burn Zombie Burn uses a surprisingly strategic system. Your multiplier is determined by how many zombies are currently on fire. By holding the R2 button, you switch your weapon for a torch (if you've found the upgrade, this will be a flamethrower) and start setting zombies ablaze. Each zombie on fire increases your multiplier by one. Killing a flaming zombie decreases the multiplier, but leaving a zombie on fire for too long results in it turning to ash and eventually scattering into the winds. This would result in a loss of the multiplier and a dead zombie without any point gain. The risk and reward stem from how zombies react to fire.
You see, burning zombies and normal zombies are completely different entities in how they react to you and what kind of items they drop. Normal zombies are afraid of fire and will be extremely hesitant to attack if you're holding out your torch. Secondly, they drop items that are directly relevant to your immediate needs, like health pickups and ammunition for your weapons. Burning zombies, on the other hand, are no longer afraid of fire, run faster and are significantly more dangerous (I think it's a fairly safe assumption that anything on fire becomes more dangerous). However, these zombies tend to drop items that make you a better zombie killer, like upgrades to your explosives and increased running speed. If you're playing the game mode where escorting another person is your goal, you'll gain health pickups for her as well.
It quickly becomes apparent that in order to get a decent score in the game, you'll need to keep many zombies on fire at all times. The key to success is mastering the balance between getting good items and keeping your multiplier high enough to earn points but without making things too dangerous. It sounds reasonably complicated for an arcade shooter, and it is. Thankfully, the title's arcade nature makes it easy to just pick up and play.
There are three game modes in Burn Zombie Burn: Free Play, Time Attack and Defend Daisy. In Free Play, you're let loose in one of the six levels, each boasting a different zombie movie stereotype. Perhaps you're at the log cabin in the woods or the secret military base, and weapons range from your standard SMGs and shotguns to a cricket bat (a wonderful nod to "Shaun of the Dead") or an absurd mini-gun that's four times the size of Bruce. You'll be roaming the maps, picking up these weapons, killing zombies and trying to rack up as many points as you can before you run out of lives. Zombies come at you in waves, and the longer you survive, the more increasingly difficult they become. Some of the zombies are incredibly bizarre, though, and you'll be sure to stare in astonishment when you see a zombie in a ballerina costume dancing toward you for the very first time. As you go, weapons will drop, zombies will die, and if you stick with a single weapon long enough, you'll get a kill bonus that lights up the big red button on every map. If you get the bonus three times, the button becomes active, and hitting it results in a beneficial bonus, such as rain to slow down the zombies down or a "holy light" that vaporizes any zombie that walks into it.
The second and third modes, Time Attack and Defend Daisy, are simple variations on the Free Play formula. Time Attack gives you a time limit, but sometimes zombies drop clocks, and if you collect them, it'll add some time to the clock. Defend Daisy changes the mechanics of the game to protect mode. While staying alive is still your primary concern, you also have to deal with protecting Daisy, a girl sitting in Bruce's nice, shiny car. If she dies, it's all over, and zombies attack her by default, so you're essentially kept on a leash for the entire match.
If none of those modes appeal to you, there is a series of 18 challenges that you can attempt. Each one adds some sort of gimmick to the gameplay to change things just enough to keep it interesting. To unlock the next challenge, you have to get a bronze medal on the previous one by surpassing a certain score. While unlocking stages in the other three modes by getting the bronze medal is reasonably easy, getting them in the challenges is difficult. If you have the patience, unlocking all of the levels and challenges will consume a fair chunk of time, and the reward dangling in front of you helps to keep you going.
The "real" rewards start to come in when you earn silver medals and higher. Once you start to earn these, you've obviously spent some time with the game and are itching for the new high score to beat. Silvers will net you things like graphical filters to put on the game, while gold medals unlock the best scores posted by the development team.
Running around and killing the zombies looks charming, thanks to the game's art direction. Gone is the gritty realism found in titles like Resident Evil 5 and Left 4 Dead, and it's replaced here by green, cute monstrosities that lurch toward you in such an adorable way that the novelty never really overstays its welcome. The over-the-top nature of the characters and the perfect amount of charm really help make Burn Zombie Burn visually appealing for a downloadable title and set it apart from the other zombie titles on the market.
The audio is slightly less impressive. The sound effects are all standard fare for the "shoot everything that moves" kind of game, and voice acting is kept to a minimum. Within 10 minutes of gameplay, I was already hearing Bruce repeating his one-liners. The music is serviceable rock, which seems neat at first but quickly fades into the background and becomes forgettable. If you like it, though, there's a jukebox mode in case you can't get enough of stereotypical guitar lick #27.
Burn Zombie Burn is a great value for $10. It offers gameplay that requires some strategy, and there's enough difficulty in unlocking everything that there's plenty of reason to go back and keep aiming for high scores. It's got enough charm to carry it through its problems, like the auto-aim, and it just happens to be an absolute blast to set thousands of zombies on fire over the course of a 15-minute level. If you've got $10 and are looking for a shooter, Burn Zombie Burn is a great purchase.
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