Zombie Rollerz: Pinball Heroes is pinball arcade meets whack-a-mole zombie annihilation. You start out as Burnjamin, a fire wielding dragon costume wearing hero, accompanied by Omnipedia, a talking book who is your best friend and also a spirit guide? I’ll be honest, the plot is not a strong point of the game. At the end of each level there is a day and night cycle and a note that informs you the zombie plague is progressing. A purple oozing encroachment takes over the map tiles behind you to represent the zombie plague, but the zombies you face are ahead of you. The game keeps track of what day you’re on, but there doesn’t seem to be any meaning behind it.
The bare bones of the plot is you are trying to save the world from the zombie incursion and reunite with all of your friends. Burnjamin has amnesia for some reason that seemed to be very important at the start of the game, but is hardly relevant later. You travel through four worlds fighting zombies and searching for different map locations to provide you with loot, blessings, stat buffs, and skill boosts. It’s actually three words, because the last world operates completely differently and is more of a last chance to beef up before the final boss.
At the end of each run through, a randomized “ending” story will appear on screen before the game restarts and you can choose a new hero to play as. I’ll be honest, this was very jarring to me for the first several run throughs. I felt that as soon as I got my momentum going with a hero, the game was over, and I had to start back over from square one. It took about five play throughs before I started to fall into a rhythm.
The majority of the different heroes are locked until you reach a certain level on the “unlock road.” A few characters are related, with the second one being unlocked upon completing a run through with the first character. The most comprehensive and enjoyable plot is the story of Rusty searching to be reunited with his daughter, Specky. Other than these two characters, the plot felt like coming to a family reunion where you don’t know anyone or staring the Twilight series by watching Breaking Dawn: Part I first while also walking in 30 minutes after the movie started. Basically, I was terribly lost, and nothing made any sense, so I ignored the plot completely.
The plot notwithstanding, the game is very overwhelming at first. Right off the bat you must choose between two different pinball skills with different abilities and trigger conditions. As you move through the levels you unlock other ball, ultimate and support skills. You can equip one ultimate skill and three support skills. This means during battle you can trigger five different skills by using various controller buttons, each with their own cool down rates. A lot of different terminology is thrown at you and the skills really don’t mean anything until you try them out. Is it better to burn, freeze or shock your enemies? Does a knock down attack or shooting coins at zombies really do that much damage? And what does dance do?
You also collect magic shovels, keys, and gold coins. There are dozens and dozens of different trinkets you can collect that can boost your stats, provide shop discounts, or add any sort of game boosts. The levels have several different components to get used to as well. There are axes, swords, wells, floor triggers, jack in the boxes, wheels, and circus tents. The word map has enemy tiles of varying difficulties, obstacles, puzzles, shelters, academies, shrines, black market shops, and teleport portals. You have to learn quickly, because of the zombie plague’s progression, forcing you through the maps at a brisk pace. You will not be able to visit every action tile on the map. It wasn’t until my first play through as Rusty that I started to get the hang of everything and could strategize instead of stumbling around blindly.
I know it sounds like I really don’t like this game, but it’s actually a load of fun…..after you get used to everything. It’s kinda like learning a foreign language, it’s a lot of work, but after it clicks you get super excited to learn new skills and unlock new trinkets. The more you play, the farther you travel down “unlock road”, which is a long list of skills and trinkets to unlock. My one complaint about unlock road is you can only see the 10 items on your current page of the road. I would prefer to look back at all the items I’ve unlocked and see what is coming up down the road. There is a gallery where you can review all the unlocked heroes, enemies, skills, and endings and see how many you have left to unlock.
The graphics are very good. There is a lot of detail put into the different elements of the game. In addition to the 10 different heroes, there are 51 different types of zombies, 142 trinkets, and 199 skills, each with a unique design. Each level has an intricate layout with details outside the play zone. The audio is likewise great. It does a great job of sucking you into the action and despite its simplicity, I never got annoyed by it. I do sometimes get self-conscious playing next to my husband, as I’m sure the loud groans of dying zombies is annoying to him while he’s trying to go about his evening, but while I’m by myself I don’t really notice it.
The current price for the game is $14.99 in the My Nintendo Store. With 10 different characters and over 200 specialties to unlock, Zombie Rollerz has a lot of replay-ability. The map populates randomly each time, both in structure and in the types of tiles available. Between the randomized map, different characters, skills, and trinkets available in the shops, no two runs are alike. I would estimate I’ve played through the game at least 30 times, and I keep coming back. I am so close to unlocking the last character, and I’m really excited to see what special mechanics get unlocked at the higher levels.
Overall, Zombie Rollerz: Pinball Heroes earns 4.5 out of 5 GiN Gems. If you’re looking for a game to draw you into a great story, Zombie Rollerz is not for you. If you’re looking for a simple, therapeutic game that you can play for an hour or so at a time, and you can get through the first hour or so not knowing what you’re doing at all, try it out.