Runner games have recently earned a lot of popularity on portable devices for their “quick to get into” gameplay. Similarly, zombie games have also gained a lot of popularity lately, so of course it was about time that the two genres would mix. Enter Z-Run for the PlayStation Vita, a runner game featuring zombies. This should make everyone happy, right? Let’s find out.
The premise of Z-Run is simple: get out of the city on foot, avoid zombies. Kill them when you can. Your controls are slightly less simple than most runner games, with buttons assigned to jumping, sliding, hitting, weapons selections, dodging, sprinting, and so on. It’s a lot to remember but it’s all introduced gently, so the acquisition of skills is at a good rate. The sheer number of assigned buttons comes at a cost, though. Jump, oddly enough, is mapped to triangle while slide is mapped to X. This can make things confusing, since in just about every other game, jumping is either X or square. So while its position at the top is meant to be a mnemonic for “up”, it turns out that muscle memory is your worst enemy. Once you’ve overcome this fairly serious handicap, however, you’re good to go.
On your run you’ll notice two bars at the lower end of the screen: one’s health and the other is stamina. You know where this is going, right? Of course you do. You can only jump, slide, and dodge provided there is stamina left, otherwise you need to “run casual” while it recharges. This is much, much harder than it sounds.
Of course, the game wouldn’t be much fun without allowing you to upgrade your character, and for this you need upgrade points that you collect. This can unlock more stamina, more health, greater weapon capacity, and so on. Obviously, the game’s later levels ramp up in difficulty to compensate, so you’ll need to make regular checks to see how many upgrade points you have. Of course, this makes sense: if you’re going to run for long periods of time while killing zombies, you will get better at killing and running. This applies as much in real life, just with fewer zombies and fewer repeated deaths.
Z-Run gives you two modes of play: campaign mode, which sees you selecting your route block-by-block as you try to make your way safely out of the zombie-infested city. There’s little modicum here, and you’re dropped straight into the street to fend for yourself. The first few levels will tutorialize you, as is the norm these days. However, sailing isn’t plain at all, and you’ll be rewarded with several deaths of your own before you even clear the first city block. What makes things worse is that there’s no “don’t show me this @%^#@$%@#$% message again”, so after each death, you have to pause to dismiss tutorial messages before you can attempt your escape again. Once or twice I don’t mind. 14 or 15 or 347? That’s a teensy smidge annoying right there. There are multiple routes through the city, and each street contains different objects and weapons, so it’s important to explore. The other mode is endless run, which is more true to the “endless runner” genre. The controls and so forth are the same, as is the entire experience beyond the “city block at a time” thing.
I’ll say this much about the game: the learning curve with the controls is a heavy deterrent, and you’ll need a lot of patience and endless replays before the game becomes anything approaching fun. And then just as you get into it, the game’s over. Despite the weapons, they add little to the experience since your forward momentum cannot be halted. While the visuals are not bad at all, the sheer repetitiveness of everything becomes maddening, and there’s no way to tell one street from another. It is one thing to try and be Temple Run, but this game finds itself a few bites short of the brains.
Final Score: 5 zombies prawns out of 10
Publisher: Sony Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita (digital download)
Age Rating: 18