Retro Review: Zombie Revenge (Sega Dreamcast)

As it often happens at this time of year, the dead have started to walk the earth, so it's time for revenge! Zombie Revenge, that is, an oft-overlooked Dreamcast brawler. Can you really fight against the living dead with your fists? Let's find out.

A home version of the Naomi arcade game and a collaboration between Sega AM1/WOW Entertainment (Die Hard Arcade, House of the Dead) and, oddly enough, Data East (their exact involvement isn't clear, the credits just say 'in co-operation with') Zombie Revenge, released in 1999, is a very loose spin-off of the House of the Dead series- Woodside City has been overrun with the living dead after a secret government plan to use the dead as soldiers goes wrong, and three A.M.S. agents are sent in to deal with the zombies and locate ZED, the villain behind this mess. Hilariously, this takes the form of a 3D scrolling brawler, which means that yes, you'll be taking down the undead with just your bare hands. Well, if you want, like. 

Unlike Die Hard Arcade, which feels closer to traditional 2D brawlers (you can only face left/right), Zombie Revenge is a fully-3D brawler, so you can attack and be attacked from any direction. Kill all the zombies in your way and push on through this undead hell! There's three basic buttons- Shot (the gun locks on automatically, but wait 'til the cursor's red to do more damage, or hold for a powerful charge shot- just watch your ammo counter), Attack (you can string attacks with Attack/Shot for combos, hold to grab/throw) and Guard (a very important button, it's also used to dash and roll from danger). Additionally, when you're hurt by enemy attacks and you haven't blocked, your health meter will fill with poison- you'll have to cure it with antidote items, and if it fills too much, you'll slow down, but also gain a powerful combo attack. With just these three buttons, there's a surprising amount of attacks and techniques available to you, especially when you throw in the weapons you'll find (including lead pipes, grenades, shotguns and... Land mines?), and while there's not as many moves as Die Hard Arcade, there's still plenty of variety. Finally, as per genre standards, the three selectable characters have different strengths and weaknesses- Stick Breitling (no, really, that's his name) is the balanced one, Linda Rotta is weak but has the best firing rate, and Rikiya Busujima focuses on brute strength and can chop zombies in half.

Stick Breitling!! You especially must suffer.

It sounds like a pretty standard 3D brawler, but Zombie Revenge is unusual, one of those games that you either 'get' straight away or don't. The main thing is that it has a very steep learning curve. Well, maybe not a learning curve, more like a learning brick wall. The controls are initially a little 'off' and really take time to adjust to, especially if you're more well-versed in other brawlers of this kind, like Crisisbeat. Movement is awkward, the timing for attacks and combos will feel slow and strange, and if you get pulverised by the very first boss a mere two minutes into the game, I wouldn't be surprised. This isn't like Streets of Rage II where you can sail through without too much fuss while knocking punks down, ZR is tough as nails from the off. Never mind each boss, each enemy group needs a different, and sometimes quite specific approach if you want to get through with minimal damage, whether it's dash-punching enemies with weapons to disarm them or playing keep-away with the bosses. You'll want to reduce damage as much as possible too- one zombie punch is enough to shave a third of your healthbar if you're not blocking, and you're given 15 lives to make it through to the end in Arcade (if you prefer your arcade ports to have infinite credits, you're outta luck!). It starts off very frustrating and borderline unfair- 'how am I supposed to avoid these enemy attacks?', you'll cry! 

All I can say is stick with it. Experiment with the three characters (I hated the game when I started as Linda, but clicked with Busujima straight away), get a feel for the controls and how combo strings work, and parts that once felt grossly unfair become much less aggravating and more like a legitimate challenge, turning the game into a tough but very satisfying task. Conquering each section of enemies and figuring out boss patterns, finding the hidden rooms with essential life-up packs, and fooling around with all the great weapons makes the effort worth it. There are some parts that feel a smidgen unfair even after practice, mostly anything involving the hatchet monkey enemies (uggghhh) and that moment when you can't reach an enemy zombie in time to stop their shotgun fire, but if you keep plugging away at it, you start to understand how each section needs to be tackled with minimal damage, and there's a great feeling of satisfaction that goes with it. It's almost like solving a puzzle, except it's a puzzle solved with violence, and the relatively small enemy groups (usually about 3 or 4) make the game a bit more palatable to play more than once. 

The world's fate is in the hands of 3 agents.

The other thing about Zombie Revenge, which kept me playing until it clicked with me, is that it is completely ridiculous. The premise of beating zombies up with your bare hands is silly enough on its own, but  ZR manages to take things even further. This is a video game where one of the bosses is a cyclops-snake-skull hybrid in a room covered in green slime that has a laser-spewing corpse in its mouth, where you are repeatedly attacked by shotgun-toting zombies, and where the voice acting is as bad as House of the Dead 2, if not worse, with my favourite being the announcer booming 'THERE'S NO TIME' when you need to hurry up. I also love the fact that Busujima speaks only in Japanese, but Stick and Linda understand him just fine. The over-the-top spirit of the arcade game is very much alive and well in ZR, and if this kind of ridiculousness is your cup of tea (it certainly is for me), then ZR really does deserve your attention and at least a few attempts at trying to click with it.

All this just relates to the Arcade Mode, mind you. As this is a Dreamcast port, it's got a few extra modes . First, there's Original Mode, which offers two new ways to play the game. Gun Mode limits your ammo count to just two clips and weakens your physical attacks, but makes your gun far more powerful, while Bare Knuckle Mode increases your physical attack strength but takes your gun away entirely. They're interesting variations, but because they focus so much on one style of play, they're not as interesting as Arcade, and don't serve as good practice for it either. Playing through Original Mode also lets you pick up items for the VMU game, which is- I'm not making this up- a bit like the Chao raising from Sonic Adventure, but it's for one of the characters in-game. Playing the VMU game also unlocks extra options in the proper game, so it's a decent little diversion, and there's also Fighting (Player Vs. Player) and Vs. Boss modes, but ultimately it's Arcade Mode that you'll be coming back to, with these extra modes as, well, extras.

Gameplay Footage:

You're not afraid of dying, are you...?

If you're the type of player who's looking for a Streets of Rage II-style 'wail-on-some-dudes-with-ease' experience while beating up the undead, Zombie Revenge is not for you. It starts out as a frustrating, seemingly impossible game that takes repeated attempts and a thorough understanding of the game mechanics and controls to really appreciate. You're probably better served on the Dreamcast by the similarly over-the-top Dynamite Cop... However, for those looking for a challenge, give it a try. It took a few playthroughs for me to really gel with it, but when I did it turned into a very fun and satisfying challenge, where I'd get a little bit better and inch a little bit closer to the end each time. When you really earn those ending credits, it feels pretty good! If you're brave enough for the road ahead, that is.

Please note: Screenshots kindly provided by Website of the Dead.

Last Updated ( 01 November 2012 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) chocklo 2012-11-01 12:26
I've a had a few short blasts on this thoughout the week and am thoroughly enjoying it. I find the environments a bit cramped sometimes so it can be difficult to avoid attacks, but I haven't made a discovery like this in ages. I'd always written it off as a bit of a bland affair ala Fighting Force with zombies. I was totally wrong and it's a brilliant arcady game with terrible cheesy sound/voice acting/ an excellent way!

Can't wait to get the time to put some real effort in to this! :D

Cheers for the recommendation a few weeks ago Tepid Snake! Have to admit, that if it wasn't for that, it could've been years before I took it out of the case....
(Link to this comment) Miketendo 2012-11-06 05:49
Well, great review, and I am definitely gonna check this one out! I need more DC titles!

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