I can't be the only person who's totally sick of zombies. Our media is absolutely saturated with them. When zombies start showing up in Call of Duty, you know they're played out. Faced with this dilemma, Developers Game Whizzes decided to move one spot down on the list of "things that go bump in the night," and employ vampires in their side-scrolling action game, Fangz [$2.99 / $2.99]. It's this one little twist on the genre that gives Fangz just enough legs to save it from being a carbon copy of the Zombieville USA series.
Fangz definitely owes much to the excellent Zombieville USA 2 [$0.99]. Fans of the Zombieville series will feel instantly at home in this hack 'n' slash gorefest. In Fangz you take control of an Everyman named Frank as he cuts a bloody path through undead hordes to rescue his family. Toting a shotgun and a few extra pounds, and clad in business casual attire, Frank calls to mind Michael Douglas' character in the cynically comedic 1993 drama, "Falling Down."
From the get-go, it's clear this game doesn't take itself seriously and has fun with the source material. Fangz has its moments, a personal favorite being the vampire who bears a suspicious resemblance to Dick Cheney, but on the whole the game's humor is pretty uneven. I'll also note that the game has a depiction of African Americans that is sure to raise some eyebrows: blinged out and flashing gang signs, they lurch toward you looking like slack-jawed simians. I can't help but feel that something was lost in translation (both the designers are European), but this sort of caricature of urban blacks is pretty unacceptable.
The game includes a ten level Campaign Mode as well as an endless Survival Mode played on the same maps. As he progresses, Frank will earn experience and money which is shared between the two modes. Experience points improve stats, which in turn grant access to more powerful weapons which are purchased with money. It's nothing we haven't seen before. One nice thing is that the game omits IAP entirely when they could've easily tried to squeeze a buck out of you to unlock weapons quicker.
So how does the game itself stack up against Zombieville USA 2 and similar side-scrolling gore-fests? Pretty well, actually. Fangz is a strong contender in the graphics department. Artist Alex Gallego is to be commended on bringing us a cohesive, colorful game, positively brimming with personality. Level design is another win for Fangz, with varied layouts and objectives keeping things fresh. Enemy variety in Fangz is definitely a cut above its predecessor: you'll be coming up against new bosses and baddies right up until the end of the campaign.
In a number of other areas, the Zombieville series definitely has the edge. My biggest frustration with Fangz is how its levels are structured. Most are broken into three stages, with the last being a difficult boss fight. Frank's health and ammo persist between stages, so if you go into the boss fight low on health and ammo, you're screwed. You also can't change or upgrade your weapons between levels. The game forces you to rely on being lucky enough to find sufficient health and ammo drops within each stage or you'll end up having to restart the entire level.
Fangz also doesn't save your progress within a level, hurting it's pick-up-and-playability. Leveling is a bit slow and money is hard to come by, robbing Fangz of that "just one more unlock" feeling that made Zombieville USA 2 an obsession for so many. Finally, for a game that cribs so much from the Zombieville series, it's disappointing that there are no unlockable characters or costumes, and that Zombieville USA's great perk system is nowhere to be found. Both games will have you coming back for more unlocks and upgrades, but Fangz simply won't have you coming back as long.
I feel compelled to make a note regarding the above complaints. The game's designer, Alexandre Ribeiro, is very active in the Fangz thread on our forums and has actually incorporated player feedback into the game. At release, Fangz simply wasn't very good: it had brutally short time limits, jumping caused Frank to lose health, and the game's difficulty curve was more like a cliff. A recent patch removed the timer, introduced a stamina bar for jumping, and added in multiple difficulty levels. The patch even added a new monster and skills to boot. This kind of responsive, pragmatic developer support is something we in the iOS community should promote and encourage.
So, should you bite? If you're a big fan of hack 'n' slash side-scrollers, this game is a no-brainer. If you like supporting premium titles that eschew IAP, or games with responsive developers who actually listen to their players, you'll want to grab Fangz. Once you sink your teeth into it you're in for a fun ride, which by the end will have you wondering why we haven't been blasting away bloodsuckers for years. Forget "Braaains. . ." let's hear it for "Blooood!"