Archives by Day

July 2024

Dead Island: Retro Revenge

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Release Date: May 31, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS4 Review - 'Dead Island: Retro Revenge'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 18, 2016 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Time for some 16-bit retro revenge! When his beloved cat gets kidnapped, Max sets out across a zombie-infested California to get him back!

For a series that is relatively young, Dead Island has taken on lots of different identities. Both the original and semi-sequel Riptide went for a first-person melee experience that was very good at handling co-op. Escape went for a third-person experience with more of an emphasis on mystery than action, and the short-lived Epidemic went in a completely different direction as a MOBA. Though the quality of each title was wildly different, it showed that publisher Deep Silver wasn't afraid to mess with the series. The latest title, Dead Island: Retro Revenge, is interesting because of how it's distributed. Currently, the only way to get it is to grab the Definitive Editions of the first two games, and while there is evidence that it can be purchased separately, that listing isn't up yet on PSN.

The story is both silly and simple, a perfect fit for the non-polygonal look and design. You're Jack Schafer, a simple guy who likes games and is keeping a low profile by playing games while the zombie apocalypse rolls through California. Unfortunately, two men come by and kidnap your cat. Determined to get your feline friend back, you roam the state, beating up everyone in your wake.

If you looked at the screenshots and thought that you're seeing a classic beat-'em-up, you'd be half-right. You'll come across a variety of enemies, and all you have at your disposal is your body. The face buttons take care of attacks to specific areas, whether it's low, high, or in the middle. You also have a rear attack to get foes behind you. The levels have various pick-ups, such as extra points or health, but you can also decimate foes with a sledgehammer for a limited amount of time. Killing enemies, both the human and zombie variety, gives you energy to bring out a weapon that can hurt both species and destroy objects. You also have a magic power to clear the screen of enemies. Aside from the fact that three hits will do you in, this is standard genre material, but there are enough things that can pull you out of the comfort zone.

The first thing you'll notice is that your movement isn't as free as expected. Unlike the old beat-'em-ups that give you a quasi-3D plane, your movements are restricted to three lanes of action. It's an approach taken by some of the more modern games of the genre, like Code of Princess, Guardian Heroes and Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, so the move isn't unprecedented. It's also helpful since you're always assured that you'll hit the enemy instead of throwing a flurry of moves to discover that you're simply hitting air because the enemy is on a slightly higher or lower plane. While those games take advantage of the fixed lane setup by allowing you access to a number of combos and stronger enemies, Retro Revenge skips that. The strongest foes you face will take up to three or four hits before expiring, leaving you with a majority of easier foes that go down with one hit.

The second thing you'll notice is that you don't have much control over your movement. While you can move freely between the three action lanes, you'll have no control over forward movement, since that's automatically done for you. You can't move to reach an enemy quicker, and you can't retreat if someone is coming from behind. You also can't jump, which feels like a necessity in this genre, so your movement is even further restricted.

The idea that Retro Revenge is an endless runner with action beats can be enough to turn off some people. The things mentioned above can make the game feel like rhythmic button-masher rather than something reminiscent of classic beat-'em-ups of yesteryear. The length of the levels is fine, but it can get tiresome since the same environments are repeated for eight stages. While the enemy lineup is varied, it doesn't help that the game shows you everything by the first two stages per environment, leaving you with no real surprises until the environment changes six stages later. Then there's the lack of multiplayer. Though a single-player beat-'em-up can still be enjoyable, the genre is typically known for bringing friends along, and since that feature is missing, it feels slightly incomplete.

Then again, if you're willing to overlook the restrictions, you'll find that Retro Revenge is deeper than you think. Quite a number of enemies can counter your attacks if you unleash the wrong one, so you'll have to think about your approach. For example, punching one zombie can get you hit since your fist gets tangled up in its intestines. Another zombie can grab and throw you if you attempt to take it on with a high kick. Even though the rather lengthy "How To Play" section gives you every counter for every enemy, remembering them in the heat of battle is another matter entirely. The game recognizes this and heaps on more challenge by constantly mixing up the enemy order in each lane, so you have to think if you're serious about getting a high score.

Combat depth also comes into play, as you can knock pieces of enemies into specific lanes to clear them out and obtain bonuses. Depending on which button you hit, you can either hit things forward or up and down different lanes, clearing out paths and making yourself look good in the process. Whatever fun may be lost among those restrictions is quickly restored when you realize that this beat-'em-up requires some strategy and a little bit of planning.

Story mode is around 24 stages long, and while the stages don't take too much time to complete, there is some real challenge in getting scores high enough to earn a five-star rating. If you are deeply invested in that high score chase, there's also a leaderboard available for every level. Aside from that, you don't have much else to go on once the main campaign is finished. Survival mode has you going as far as you can on one life, while Marathon does the same but with no breaks between stages.

Graphically, Retro Revenge is pretty impressive. The animation is good, and the character sprites are detailed enough with a color scheme that makes you feel like it came straight from the Super Nintendo era. There's loads of gore for those expecting it, and it ranges from simple blood splatters to full-on beheadings. As expected, the hardware is put to good use by filling the screen with more characters than expected, and when unleashing a magic spell among a throng of enemies, the display of giblets is glorious. With no slowdown anywhere in the game and a pretty good CRT filter that can be toggled, the title certainly adheres to a retro look.

While the graphics emulate the classic era in a good way, the sound does the complete opposite. Effects are fine but nothing special, as it sounds the same to hit a zombie or a human with any moves. The chiptune soundtrack is nice but not particularly memorable, especially since it lacks variety as you go across all three environments. What is memorable is that your character is voiced by a Jack Black sound-alike. You'll hear plenty of clips with his pitch and tone, and while nothing is outright hilarious, it takes a while before you'll start to hear lines being repeated.

Dead Island: Retro Revenge is a short but good game that is fun if you give it a chance. Though the endless runner format can be limiting, the different strategies and the ability to mix up combos and attacks makes this a more skillful brawler. Enemy variety works, and the game is rather accessible for perfectionists in the realm of score hunting as well as those who just want to button-mash. Even though it's not considered a must-buy, Retro Revenge isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon for $4.99.

Score: 7.0/10

More articles about Dead Island: Retro Revenge
blog comments powered by Disqus