Review: “Gunslingers and Zombies” (Nintendo Switch)
Zombies abound, partner! Oh, never mind. I’m not doing “cowboy speak” this entire review. Sure, it’s not nearly as annoying as pirate speak, but most cowboy types seem pretty cool most of the time, so why make fun of them?
…aaand we have a game to look at. Specifically, it’s Gunslingers and Zombies, a turn-based strategy game originally developed for PC by Live Motion Games and ported to the Nintendo Switch by Ultimate Games S.A.*
Set in the the Wild West town of Whiskey, Gunslingers and Zombies pits cowboys against zombies. It’s such a great idea, that it’s a wonder that it’s not been used in a video game before (Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare).
Still, it’s a cool combination and one well-suited to the video game experience. Isolation? No long-distance communication? Weapons with limited ammunition? All of this lends the Wild West to being a natural setting for a zombie apocalypse. Gunslingers and Zombies applies this idea in the framework of a turn-based strategy game, one where players must position their gunfighters, manage resources, and of course, blow every zombie’s bitch-ass brains out before their own gray matter becomes a zombie dinner special.
The story told in Gunslingers and Zombies is a moving, epic tale. Words simply can’t convey the depth and characterization of the plot, but I’m going to try… Zombies show up, and small groups of townspeople come together to start shooting them. That’s certainly all that’s necessary to get the ball rolling, am I right?
The player controls a small party of gunslingers, each of whom have have a different set of weapons available to them. Weapon range, capacity, and damage varies, and ammo is limited. Everyone has a knife which can be used endlessly, though, so you’re not completely defenseless if you expend all of your ammunition.
In addition to traversing the map and blasting away at the oncoming zombies, you can also use your limited player “actions” for looting, reloading, or healing other characters (if you have bandages available). Extra ammunition and bandages are scattered throughout most of the stages, so sometimes your best strategy will be to explore before jumping head first into battles with the undead.
Once you’ve expended all of your actions, the zombies get their turn to advance and attack. While most of the enemies are typical zombie drones, there are some with a variety of special attributes. “Hubs” split into multiple zombies when killed, “Boomers” explode with poison gas, while “Hunters” can throw projectiles at you (Left 4 Dead homage, or rip-off? You decide). However, all of them are more vulnerable when attacked from the rear than head-on. Why does this matter with zombies? Meh. Because vidya games.
Each stage varies in maps size and mission objectives. Some maps are large and provide tons of room to maneuver, while others are narrower corridors that can restrict your options for advance. In addition to simply wiping out all of the zombies in an area, objectives include looting buildings for resources, sealing up a mine shaft with explosives, destroying zombie hives, and saving other civilians (who occasionally join your party).
The world of Gunslingers and Zombies is presented with low-polygon graphic style for both the stages and character designs. To me, the characters look like a blend of Minecraft and Dire Straits’ I Want My MTV music video, though these designs look more generic for most of the game due to the remote, overhead camera position. For the same reason, there isn’t much to say for the character animations, but all of the characters trot around smoothly enough. In any case, these simplistic character designs ensure that the violence in the game stays very unrealistic, so you can rest assured that playing it in front of kids – or letting kids play it – likely won’t give them nightmares.
The simplistic character designs may or may not be your thing, but I liked how this style worked with the environments. The stages range from towns, military outposts, canyons, and an island. The low poly graphics evoke a nostalgic sense of early 3D or virtual reality games from the 90s, which will always be a nostalgic soft spot for me. Unfortunately, all of the stages take place outside, with the same lighting, and in the same conditions. It would have been nice for to mix things up by setting a stage at night time, indoors, or feature some weather effects such as rain or sandstorms.
All of the sounds in Gunslingers and Zombies certainly fit the demands of the game, but there’s nothing extraordinary to speak of. Sure, the most iconic sound for any game with zombies in it is the scratchy “NNNNGGGHHHAAA!” groan of the approaching undead. Gunslingers and Zombies has all this in the necessary doses. Your party members make a quick but indistinct scream when they take a hit, but there aren’t any intelligible words spoken at any point.
Gunslingers and Zombies’ musical score is made up mostly of low key, western tunes. I found it to be adequate, but pretty bland, and I would have preferred that the tunes be a little bit spookier than the slow, melancholy piano in most of the stages.
“Cheers and Jeers and NNNNGGGHHHAAAs!”
To round out my lingering gripes, one thing that really needs addressing is the game’s camera. While it can be rotated with the the ZL and ZR buttons, it is always positioned at an isometric angle, and elements in the stage will often get in the way. This makes selecting your character and other objects more difficult than it needs to be, and I hope that there is an update at some point that adds an option to swap to a perfectly flat bird’s-eye perspective.
Additionally, while the underlying plot of Gunslingers and Zombies isn’t intended as a selling point, there are a few small changes that could have drawn players into the story and characters more. Despite reusing the same character art from stage to stage, the character names and attributes inexplicably change. It would have been ever so slightly more investing to play using the same characters throughout the game. Furthermore, there is a brief, illustrated interlude between each stage where the characters outline the objectives for the next mission. However, none of this written dialogue is attributed to a particular character, and doing so would have brought them to life a bit more. This story gripes are admittedly very small, but it seems to me that they would be easy changes to make.
I should note that I never noticed any performance issues with the game, though. No slowdown or screen tearing, everything loads quickly enough, and perhaps most importantly, no crashes.
Overall, Gunslingers and Zombies is an approachable, turn-based strategy game with a unique setting and premise, and the visual style makes it a rare zombie game that is appropriate for almost all ages.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about the game. At a few hours long, it’s certainly shorter than other games in the strategy genre. Sure, there are three difficulty levels and a three-star system for completing special objectives in each stage, but that’s not much of an incentive to replay it. Most strategy fans probably expect a deeper story or gameplay mechanics to get their strategy fix, but Gunslingers and Zombies is very light on these elements.
In fact, Gunslingers and Zombies is probably best recommended to those who are relatively new to turn-based strategy games, or those who are looking for a quick, low-investment distraction and are keen on the “zombie western” theme. At an $8.99 asking price, Gunslingers and Zombies won’t take too much of a bite out of your wallet, either, though that’s still a few bucks more than it is on Steam (that darn Nintendo tax… NNNNGGGHHHAAA! ).
Gunslingers and Zombies was developed by Live Motion Games and Ultimate Games S.A., and is available now for Nintendo Switch and Steam PC.
*Disclosure: A copy of Gunslingers and Zombies was sent to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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