Zombie Match Defense: A Genre Mash-up with Brains
Zombie Match Defense is a rather curious game. It was born more or less as a piece of satire, a way to win a bet first and foremost. Its title is descriptive to the point of parody. Indeed, this is a game about zombies, matching, and defense. It’s not a very interesting name at first blush, to say the least. Even the core idea of mixing together zombies, match-3 puzzle games, and lane-based defense sounds like something ridiculously generic. And yet when you play the game, it feels fresh and fun in a way you would never have expected. It’s clever, polished, and full of heart.
When you first start the game, there aren’t any modes or gameplay options to choose from. You’re thrown into the main story missions, where you learn the ropes through a quick and painless tutorial. The play field consists of five lanes filled with various weird-looking brains. On the left end of each lane is a door, guarded by a scientist. Zombies, or rather zombie heads, appear in waves from the left, latching on to one of the brains. The player can make moves by swapping one brain with an adjacent brain. Each time they do, all of the zombies on the play field will make a move of their own. If players match three or more brains in a horizontal or vertical pattern, the brains will be removed and the rows will readjust, pushing back all the pieces to the left of the cleared brains.
Making a match using a brain with a zombie attached will kill it. In the main story mode, there are a set number of zombies you need to kill to clear the stage. The first zombie to reach the far left side of a lane will kill the scientist standing there. Without a scientist to guard, the next zombie to hit the end of that particular lane will go out the door, resulting in a loss for the player. Three of the four zombie types will allow the player to move a brain they’re occupying, while the fourth will not. In the Endless mode, there is no set number of zombies to kill. The player just keeps going until they lose, with a running tally of how many of each zombie they’ve managed to kill recorded at the top.
Clearing stages in the main mode will earn you some Zombucks, the game’s main currency. You can use Zombucks to unlock items at the ice cream truck. These aren’t consumable items. Once you’ve unlocked them, you can equip them whenever you like. Once equipped, items are earned in-game by matching four brains, doing a double-match, or matching five brains. There are different items for each of these special kinds of matches, and the player can choose between two options for each type once unlocked. These items will not only save you in an emergency, but will also allow you to set up some interesting combos. You can only stockpile three items at a time during gameplay, so you’re encouraged to use them as you get them.
The Endless mode offers different rewards. You’ll earn badges based on your performance, and those badges can be used to unlock new scientists. There’s no benefit to this in gameplay terms, but it’s a fun goal that will keep you busy for a while. You can play Endless mode in two different ways. The first, which unlocks after you complete the first area in the story mode, has no items and only normal zombies. The second unlocks after you have beaten the normal story mode and enables both items and all four types of zombies. It’s very difficult, but also quite fun.
The normal story mode can be cleared relatively quickly, as it only has 20 stages set across four areas. Each section features only normal zombies and, past the first area, one type of zombie specific to that area. Beating it will not only open up the second endless mode but also open up the Hard mode, giving you 20 more levels to clear. The number of zombies gets outrageous here, with bigger waves and more of the special types of zombies. If you can somehow beat that mode, you’ve cleared everything the main mode has to offer and can now retire to the Endless mode to push your skills as far as they’ll go.
The whole game is done up in a really cute, charming tone. Given the topic matter, it could have easily been grotesque but instead the brains look very cartoonish, decorated with scrambled eggs, spiderwebs, and so on. The zombies are reduced to heads, and the special zombies simply wear different helmets to distinguish them. The music and visual theme changes in each area, and it’s all really well done. The sound effects are also great, with voice samples from the ice cream man playing when you make impressive combos.
Combining genres makes for an excellent, unique flavor. The encroaching zombies add an element of tension missing from many matching puzzle games. The turn-based gameplay makes for a totally different type of strategy from most lane-based defense games. Zombie Match Defense grabs the best of both worlds, combines that with a great sense of style, and results in a game that is really hard to put down. The genesis of the game’s concept came from a wager about whether or not a good game could come from mashing together popular elements. It’s safe to say the designer of Zombie Match Defense won that bet.