Some games just embrace their inner silliness, and they’re better for it. In an era of an increased saturation of serious zombie games, I enjoy it when some developers embrace the theme but add their own sense of charm to it. Grandpa and the Zombies (Free) is one such game.
As you could probably surmise from the title, Grandpa and the Zombies has a funny little setup. “Grandpa" (the hero of the tale) wakes up mysteriously in a hospital with a broken leg, only to find that the apacolypse has apparently started. Zombies are slowly filing into the building, and knocking at his door — so he has to scram, immediately. The only problem is he’s in a wheelchair. From there, the game pretty much just rolls with the premise.
Grandpa may look action-oriented at first glance, but it’s actually a grid-based puzzle game. It follows a slow and methodical pace as you lead the wheelchair-bound protagonist through each board, and collect up to three pieces of candy (stars, essentially) along the way. There’s a ramp in every level that Grandpa can roll over, which ends the level regardless of how many sweets he’s picked up. You can swipe along the screen upwards, downwards, left or right to move Grandpa in either direction, which is easy enough to do, and accurate. But you’ll soon realize that you can’t just swing him around willy-nilly, as you have to wait a second or two in-between moves.
The reason for this is because Grandpa and the Zombies follows the same old school roguelike pattern of many retro dungeon crawlers. When Grandpa moves, the zombies move — not before, or after. If you just sit there on the screen and do nothing, the zombies in turn will stay put. If you move, depending on the tactical input of each enemy, they’ll move according to your chosen direction. At first, you’ll only have to do battle with green zombies that move in the same direction as Grandpa, often getting in the way or blocking your potential exit. If you make contact with one of these zombies, it’s over — our hero gets puked on, and it’s time to restart the stage.
Thankfully you can indirectly fight these foes, by directing them out of the map through various holes in the wall, or by way of pitfalls. Grandpa doesn’t need to actually move when he sends these zombies to their doom, so you can use walls to your advantage and direct them to the appropriate traps. It’s here that the controls really start to make sense. Although it feels weird at first to have to follow a slower pace when moving Grandpa around, you’ll soon realize that it’s actually better that way, and adds a bit more strategy to the proceedings.
Once you get to the other zombie types, like the “wrapped zombies" that actually block off the aggressive ones and help you wheel into new areas, things start to shine even more. Slowly but surely, more strategic elements are added and the game gets even more difficult. If you want you can spring for the inoffensive IAP in the form of a hint system, but thankfully it doesn’t get too overbearing, and you get three hints to start with.
Visually, Grandpa and the Zombies has a lot of charm in terms of its character designs, but everything else is kind of dull, sadly. The maps feel really bland and overly cloned, and the menu also share the same dreary feeling. Because of this, the levels start to feel too similar as you go on, and despite the fact that the concepts are actually pretty fresh and challenging, I was bored enough on a few separate occasions that I put my device down.
It also doesn’t help that you need to obtain a large amount of candies to proceed to the subsequent worlds, adding some tedium to having to go back and redo some of the more boring stages over and over. There’s a fairly large amount of maps available in the game, and gating people off feels odd.
Having said that, if you’re looking for a challenging, methodical puzzle game, Grandpa and the Zombies might be your next purchase. It starts off fairly slow but escalates quickly into a tactical nightmare, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your view of puzzlers.