That smell isn't the zombies.
Virtual pet games are a kind of window into man’s connection with the animals we have invited into our lives. Even as a most basal depiction of this relationship, these games can be wildly popular. It doesn't matter if your puppy isn’t real, there can be something rewarding about nurturing and playing with it. But what if you don’t want to nurture your pet? What if feeding it, caring for it, and otherwise interacting with it is just a chore? Wouldn’t it be great if your pet couldn’t die, if you had no responsibilities? It sounds like you need a different kind of pet—a zombie pet.
Pet Zombies adds a bit of satire to a genre filled to the brim with corgis and huskies. As the name subtly implies, Pet Zombies is a game about having pet zombies. Shockingly, a game premised on caring for something that is already dead lacks a certain tension.
I mean, they can eat radioactive waste
Pet Zombies lets you pick from a cast of zombie archetypes: cooks, cheerleaders, scientists, etc. Once you select your undead dependent, you do all the standard stuff for a virtual pet title: feed it, play with toys, and electrocute it. That last one is actually a bit specific to this game. You see, Pet Zombies is the most barebones virtual pet title. It does only what is required to meet the most minimum standards of interactivity. As an experiment, I bought my zombie a new toy, a clown punching bag. She quite happily wailed on it for three solid minutes with zero input by me, before turning to request I feed her brains (“braaaaaaaaaaains”). I ignored her rather mild request for sustenance and she happily returned to the task of hitting the inanimate object until such a time that she not only managed to level up without any sort of input from me but also managed to become more “nurtured” despite my willful neglect.
Yes, the game does feature zombie experience levels. Each tedious level unlocks a singular item, be it a new type of food (such as rotten milk bones), a new toy (a cardboard box), decoration for your zombie terrarium, or even one of five mini-games (such as zombie toss).The majority of these items also need to be purchased from the zombie shop using…zombucks. These are earned based on your performance in one of five mini-games, most of which involve causing bodily harm to your zombie pet. The problem is that the game only starts with one mini-game unlocked, and it will be quite a while before another conduit for earning currency appears.
This is your only game for the next hour, enjoy
For a virtual “pet” I never felt like I was either charmed or bonded with my undead devotee. This is a fundamental failure of a game of this type. All the leveling up did was unlock new items, and each of the zombie “breeds” seem more or less the same. A limited number of reactions to a fixed number of stimuli basically render the only part of the game that presents true “reward” to be the mini-games, which require you plow through what should be the main mode to access, in a dog wagging its on tail sort of way.
I get that the game is selling on its gross-out humor. Feeding the zombie a leather boot is supposed to be a punchline, but it just doesn’t seem funny. I understand zombies are stupid, but watching them break a mirror and get “bad luck” isn’t charming or witty. A mini-game where you fish non-food out of a zombie’s intestine isn’t rip-roaring comedy. It is possible that this game could be funny: the scenario has some potential. However, this game is incapable of the task, relying on well-worn zombie humor and uninspired sight-gags. You can be gross-out funny in a game, but you have to do it intelligently.
It’s all kind of a shame. Pet Zombies actually does a solid job with the 3DS hardware. The zombie models are well-designed and look crisp. The 3D effect places them in an open space that is populated with decorative touches. And, for whatever reason, I found it very easy to focus on this game at max 3D setting. The sound effects are mostly zombie groans, slapstick sounds, and some basic music. It’s all effective enough for the task at hand.
2D image of a 3D zombie
The game is controlled entirely with the stylus. This is pretty standard for virtual pets on the DS family of systems, and there are no noteworthy control issues. However, calling the zombie requires tapping on the zombie’s footprints on the bottom screen, and they are needlessly small. It is minor, but a button press would be nice, as would some of the simple voice controls that are present in other games of this genre.
Pet Zombies has two problems that really mar it. Firstly, the game lacks ambition. Instead, it is a very by-the-book virtual pet title. It does not live up to other examples, such as Nintendogs + Cats, and it does not present compelling interaction between you and your zombie. This problem factors into its second fault—a game about caring for the undead isn’t especially engaging. I understand that the game is supposed to be funny, but these undead are boring. Ultimately, when your zombies aren’t interesting you cannot connect to them. They all behave in much the same way, and you never get to do simple things like learning their personalities or even watch more than one of your zombies interact with each other.