The Game: Blood of the Zombies
The Device: iPhone 4
The Price: $5.99 on Google Play, App Store
The Basics: Remember Fighting Fantasy? The granddaddy of roleplaying gamebooks is back!
Developer Tin Man Games is already well known for their Gamebook Adventures, some of which we’ve loved and reviewed on Tapsauce, like An Assassin at Orlandes and Judge Dredd. These are Choose Your Own Adventure books for hardcore gamers, books with a heavy dose of dice-rolling and combat to make replayable single-player RPGs. Unlike Tin Man’s unique Gamebook series, Blood of the Zombies is an official Fighting Fantasy title. You might not be familiar with the series, which kicked off with dozens of books in the 1980s and are just getting back on their feet for the digital age.
Blood of the Zombies was written by Fighting Fantasy co-creator Ian Livingstone for the celebration of its 30th anniversary this year. Besides the iOS and Android apps it’s also been released in print, perhaps no surprise for such a hugely popular series (it’s been published in 25 languages, selling over 16 million copies worldwide!) But with new full-color blood-splattered art, music, sound effects, and realistic 3D dice physics, the apps might be the best way to experience this… especially since Livingstone wrote 80 extra death sequences to make sure that even failure is fun.
As you can tell from the name, this is much more of a straight-up horror story than any of Livingstone’s previous gamebooks, which had names like Deathtrap Dungeon and Temple of Terror and generally focused on high fantasy. Here you star as an overly curious person who’s so obsessed with supernatural beings that you take a trip to Southern Europe to find some evidence of vampires or werewolves, because they’re crawling all over the place down there. You find nothing and so head to Translyvania, Romania to explore a local crypt that’s empty… except for some local thugs that beat you up and kidnap you, delivering you to a local castle. Manacled and starved in its dungeon for days, you start the game trying to figure out how to deal with the malicious jailer, who gets a kick out of serving your rancid bowl of stew just a few inches out of your reach.
Choose the right path and you’ll escape your cell and start to explore the castle, only to find out that it’s infested with zombies. The owner of the place, one Gingrich Yurr, is set on creating a zombie army and is already well on his way to doing so. Fortunately you can find all kinds of tools and modern weapons (guns!) to help take them down and save the world.
The Review: Easily one of the best of Tin Man Games’ stable. The castle is cleverly laid out and even playing through it many times you’ll constantly be finding new areas that you missed before. Lots of traps and random dice rolls ensure that you’ll never know what you’ll face this time. While yes, zombies are the most overused horror theme of our age, it allows for a lot of combat and fun visuals, as all sorts of zombie forms make an appearance… even one that might be of interest to Nintendo fans. It all culminates in an all-out war with the undead.
The combat is a little different that fans will be used to, and even simpler. Depending on the weapon you have you’ll roll in-game dice and kill that many zombies. A sword does 1D6 of damage while a grenade does 2D6+1 (That’s two six-sided dice plus one, if you’re not down with your dice shorthand.) However many zombies you don’t kill do that much damage to your stamina, and if it ever hits 0, you’re dead. While you had to track all this yourself while reading the actual book the app tallies everything for you automatically, making it easy to focus on the story.
This game also lets you read it in a few different ways. Now you’re given unlimited bookmarks no matter which difficulty you select, so you can always hold your place and try again, perhaps choosing not to explore what’s in a certain room this time. The easiest difficulty even lets you completely cheat, healing yourself and exploring all options as you please.
The soundtrack is a bit repetitive and heavily reminiscent of the theme from Showtimes’s Masters of Horror series, that kind of eerie, tinkling piano keys. But Kevin Crossley’s art is some of the best that Tin Man has featured yet, bloody and disturbing yet cartoony all at once. My one issue with it is that the art always shows up at the start of a section, letting you know when enemies are going to appear and ruining any bit of a surprise you might get from the text.
The game has about as much replay value as any of these have. It’s hard to read through an entire book again and again to get in the mood and I keep having to stop myself from skimming passages I’ve read before, but there are a ton of different paths and secrets to find along the way. Achievements give you even more of a reason to keep exploring and trying new things, especially one for killing every single zombie in the castle. Built-in twitter functionality allows you to instantly share all of your victories and your many, many failures, and the start page of the app contains a tally of the number of zombie deaths you’ve caused to make you feel even more accomplished as you cut your way through the castle.
Next up for Fighting Fantasy is House of Hell, a gamebook written by series co-creator Steve Jackson and illustrated by Tim Sell back in 1984. Welcome back, guys.
The Final Grade: A