If you've never heard of Zombie Minesweeper [$0.99], you could be forgiven for thinking the combo sounds a bit dull. Minesweeper has been around the block a few times, and zombies have been overexposed for years. But as those who've played the browser version know, there's something special in the combination of zombies and minefields. This top-down action puzzler puts the two together to explosive effect.
Imagine Minesweeper as applied to an actual minefield. As you direct the game's heroine, Sally, from square to square, numbers pop up on the ground around her. As in Minesweeper, those numbers indicate how many mines are adjacent to a square. To survive the invasion of a variety of zombified animals, you'll need to direct Sally to safe spaces, flagging the spaces you think hold mines as you go, while the undead hordes breathe down her neck.
While this remarkably successful combination of logic puzzle and explosive violence has been available for free online for a while, the browser version serves as more of a demo than a complete experience. It offers a handful of levels in two modes that the iOS version eschews. On iOS, you'll find a fully featured campaign that extends this excellent gameplay over 31 varied levels. It isn't universally successful, but when it works well, Zombie Minesweeper is a fantastic experience. The visuals are great and the music adds a strong sense of tension. It's a lovely, gruesome package.
In each of the levels, you'll need to guide Sally safely through the minefield to an explosive trigger at its end. She'll move to any space you tap, and the mine markers are revealed around her. When you use those numbers to identify spaces where mines are present, you can select a flag and mark the spot. She won't path over flagged mines, but zombies aren't that bright. They claw their way out of the ground and amble toward her, hungry for brains. You can lure them into mines, or you can pull something out of your bag of tricks.
What those tricks include depends on the level. Most often you'll have access to bombs, which you can plant near zombies for time-delayed destruction. Sally also has her shotgun, and if you find some ammo you can tap zombies to blow them to pieces. Brains are littered around some levels -- pick them up and plant them to lure zombies to their re-deaths. While you're coming up with creative ways to kill the undead, you're also trying not to get blown to bits in the minefield. It's a balancing act.
When you reach the end of a level, you trigger a chain-reaction that sets off every flagged mine. This will kill every zombie nearby, skyrocketing your score for the level if you've been vigilant about marking mines. That's where I ran into my first big problem with Zombie Minesweeper: the score you earn for the level doesn't matter. The level tracks your overall score, but that score doesn't ever become relevant unless you want to Tweet it. Instead, at the end of each level you're ranked with medals for zombie kills, your deaths, and flags that hit mines versus those that don't. Fair enough, but why show a score at all?
Perhaps the score is for the OpenFeint leaderboard, but the leaderboard never worked for me. The achievements are a bit better -- they certainly add some challenge, but they don't always trigger correctly. On top of that, my game crashed several times. Together, that's more frustration than I'd normally tolerate. But the core experience of Zombie Minesweeper is so enjoyable that I was happy to take the bad with the good. Still, a few fixes and Game Center support are badly needed.
Those small issues are a shame, because otherwise the experience is very well designed. For instance, Zombie Minesweeper is never frustratingly difficult because you can't really die. Getting eaten or blown up just sends you back to the start of a level, with all your exploration and flagging intact. It's nearly impossible to get stuck, since enough persistence is usually enough to win through. If you want a greater challenge, though, you can compete for higher ranks -- try making it through each level in one try, and there's little chance you'll find the game too easy.
Despite its issues, I'd recommend giving Zombie Minesweeper a shot. If you're not ready to commit, the browser version will give you a good introduction to the game's clever combination of puzzles and explosive action. If you want more, the zombies are waiting.
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