Over the last few years, I've seen a great number of strange things done to George Romero's slavering, brain-dead antagonists. They've been assaulted by botanical artillery, transmogrified into office workers, made into soccer players and stuffed into a pizzeria. I'm totally okay with that, by the way. Amorous zombies, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. Google Warm Bodies. You'll understand. Still, were it not for a certain major flaw (we'll get into that), Akaoni Studio's frenetic arcade style shooter Zombie Panic in Wonderland Plus [Free] could have made me into a convert.
Steeped in cherry blossoms and highly destructible architecture, Zombie Panic in Wonderland is the story of a rather troubled land. Once a tranquil environment populated by a mishmash of copyright-infringing characters, Wonderland is now the epicenter of a ghoulish infestation.
Curiously enough, the dude responsible for all this madness has rather little to do with the usual list of suspects (evil corporations, witchcraft, heavy metal - you know the drill). The culprit here is a self-centered prince with an affection for the spotlight. He made a perfume designed to enthrall the masses. As you might have guessed, that didn't work too well. Consequently, it is now up to you, the heroic and extremely effeminate-looking Mamotaro, to save the day.
Trust me, it sounds easier than it really is. In spite of the unreasonably adorable visuals, Zombie Panic in Wonderland does not hold back the punches. While it starts off on a relatively easy note, the difficulty level ramps up exponentially with every passing stage. Before you know it, you'll find yourself having dodging putrefied sumo wrestlers, shurikens, demonic energy blasts and an assortment of other projectiles. Along the way, you're also going to have to gun down everything from desiccated high school children to undead ninja gnomes. As per the grand old tradition set by titles like Time Crisis and House of the Dead, one hit is all it takes to shave off a life from your tally.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't really be a bad thing but Zombie Panic in Wonderland is infuriatingly tight-fisted with the whole giving lives thing. Unless you make some purchases, you're only ever going to get a single life and a single continue. That's it. Good luck. Use those up and you can kiss your progress goodbye. It's back to the first square with you, my friend.
Fortunately, however, the game doesn't leave you completely high and dry. Remember what I said about the local infrastructure? It comes down rather easily. While you can always make use of your arsenal, you can also choose to literally bring the house down on your opponents. You even get extra points depending on your aptitude for mass destruction. In addition, there are also a number of exploding figurines capable of assisting you in your quest for total annihilation.
Gameplay-wise, that's all about it for Zombie Panic in Wonderland. It doesn't try to be more than what it is really is: a deeply responsive iOS port of Akaoni Studio's WiiWare title. You progress through levels by filling a meter with your acts of wanton violence. If you succeed, you get to move on. If you don't, well, you fail. It's as gloriously simple as that.
I'm going to take this moment to add that the controls are also rather exemplary. To move, you utilize the iPhone's built-in accelerometer. To dodge enemies, you swipe with a finger. If you want to shoot a barrage of bullets at your foes, you hold a finger down on the screen. To lob grenades, you double tap.
With its eclectic soundtrack (the moderately eerie traditional-sounding Japanese songs are particularly nice), cutesy visuals and approachable gameplay, Zombie Panic in Wonderland should have been something great. It should have been one of those games you openly recommend to your friends. It should have worked in all the right ways. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Why? The in-app purchase system.
To be blunt, I'm not happy about it. In fact, I'm downright vexed. While it is not uncommon for iPhone games to do their best to entice you into additional expenditure, I have problems stomaching the approach that Akaoni Studio took. $3.99 for the full campaign mode? A little steep but I can deal with it. $2.99 for unlimited continues? $0.99 for a single extra continue? No. Just no.
With but one life and one continue available for free, the message is clear: grow cat-like reflexes or purchase those elusive continues. Take your pick. In all fairness, though, Zombie Panic in Wonderland does offer an all-in-one pack that will bestow every currently available (note the presence of the word 'current') asset upon you, but really, all-important consumables should not be exploited in such a manner.
Then again, to abuse a well-worn writer's trope, your personal mileage may vary. If you're okay with the way they've approached the whole freemium thing, Zombie Panic in Wonderland will probably make you rather happy. If not, steer clear. At the very least it's nice that there's no barrier of entry to check out what really is a very cool title, and after playing the included free content you should have a good idea of how much money you're willing to drop on IAP, if any at all. It's just a shame to see such a nice game stripped down and sold piece by piece like this.
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