The Crazy Things We Do For Love

Life goes on even during the most hectic times, so we can’t very well expect dating to come to a grinding halt during a zombie apocalypse, can we? When the heroine of Frogtoss Games’ iOS debut gets a call from her boyfriend amidst such a calamity, she vows to meet him on the other end of town despite all the minefields and undead animals separating them. This sounds absolutely bonkers on paper, but once you’ve spent some time with Zombie Minesweeper (Out Now, On Sale for $0.99), you’ll probably agree with me that the concept was a no-brainer. The threat of moving enemies really ups the ante on ye olde Minesweeper formula; stir in Frogtoss Games’ macabre sense of humor and you’ve got a product that’s ripe for a cult following among casual and hardcore gamers alike.

Zombie Minesweeper starts the player off with a thorough live tutorial on how Minesweeper works. Hey, stop chuckling — when I was a kid I suffered so many virtual deaths in that game for lack of understanding it’s not even funny, and now, after all these years, I finally get it! Playing from a grid-based isometric perspective, the player directs the heroine with taps on destination tiles. Per Minesweeper tradition, safely traversed tiles reveal numbers that clue the player in to how many mines are buried nearby, and once the player’s figured out probable mine locations he or she can mark them with flags. The player’s goal is to get the heroine safely to a TNT detonator at the end of each level, at which point she’ll blow the whole level to kingdom come. Awfully courteous of her to clear these minefields for all the other ladies trying to make it to their significant others at such a trying time!

Fans of vanilla Minesweeper will already have a sense of how difficult it can be to get the player character to her destination in one piece; factor in zombies popping up everywhere to ruin the player’s concentration and you’ve got an even dicier situation! Thankfully the game stirs in new elements as the player goes along, mostly in the offense department: the heroine does a pretty good job fending for herself with all the shotgun shells and grenades lying around. She’ll blow away any zombie the player taps on provided she’s stocked with ammo, but the player has to reach for virtual buttons to lob grenades and activate mine detectors. Enemy behaviors evolve enough to keep things interesting, and resources have to be budgeted so wisely I’d call this a great survival horror game if it all weren’t so morbidly hilarious.

When the player completes each of Zombie Minesweeper‘s 32 levels, his or her performance is rated according to the number of retries, accuracy of mine marker placement, and number of exterminated zombies. Should the poor gal suffer a gooey death upon a mine or after getting a little too close to the hungry undead, she’ll be sent back to the beginning of the level with the player’s progress kept intact. Alternatively, challenge seekers can manually re-start and let random level generation kick in so he or she can face a fresh set of unknown risks — definitely one of the better uses of this design technique I’ve seen in my gaming years. Good performance doesn’t just go on the player’s OpenFeint record, but also appears to have a gameplay impact in letting him or her skip around a bit on Zombie Minesweeper‘s world map. Likewise, the game appears to help struggling players with hints that reveal mine locations. Zombie Minesweeper‘s approach to challenge feels interestingly organic compared to the strict difficulty level selection we would normally expect in a game that plays like this.

Frogtoss has built a rock-solid interface that commendably handles different user inputs. Tap-to-shoot and tap-to-move never get mixed up, although the player may be foiled on occasion when an enemy suddenly pops up on a tile intended as a destination square, invoking a spray of buckshot instead of the precious distance the heroine might need to avoid a nearby zombie. Minesweeper veterans will be tempted to ask for more densely packed mine fields, as there are quite a few passages that lack mines entirely; on balance, these occasions provide for some exciting run-and-gun action as a tradeoff, leaving Zombie Minesweeper with a wonderfully eclectic feel over all.

What I missed in the release version was a functionality for sliding the field around to get a better view. Dead ends will prove rather distasteful to the easily frustrated once levels reach truly sprawling proportions; moreover, it would be great to get a look at where the most densely packed zombie hordes are once the player is sent back to the beginning of a level, conscious of the need to budget resources collected before the heroine’s untimely demise.

Zombie Minesweeper sports a simple but fun cartoon aesthetic, and some pretty rockin’ tunes during the more intense levels. Given the App Store’s traditional price ranges, potential players might balk at its full $3.99 price tag once the release sale expires — this is one that would definitely benefit from a Lite version once that happens. Packing at least four hours of excellently crafted gameplay, however, Zombie Minesweeper wouldn’t strike me as conspicuously overpriced even at the higher range.

iFanzine Verdict: A hybrid of light action and Minesweeper-style puzzles that reaches the intensity needed to appeal to just about anyone — casual and hardcore gamer alike. If you’re in the mood for something that’s fun and eclectic without taking itself too seriously, consider Zombie Minesweeper one of the more compelling fish in the sea of App Store offerings.

*NOTE: It probably goes without saying, but Zombie Minesweeper‘s rather jarring take on humor may prove quite disturbing for anyone who’s ever been injured in incidents involving explosions. (And not to mention, incidents involving zombies!)

[xrr rating=4.5/5]