The 16-bit era was a gold mine for quality beat em ups. From arcade greats like Final Fight to home console exclusives such as Streets of Rage, if you liked fighting in the streets you were well served. The genre did become a bit over saturated though. In the move to 3d this once great bastion of video gaming almost completely disappeared. The few attempts at updating it were decent at best. With Zombie Revenge Sega came close to reminding us why we loved these games so much. It has its problems but overall it’s a great game.
Zombie Revenge is a spinoff of the House of the Dead. Other than a few subtle nods you would be hard pressed to notice outside of the zombies and the AMS agency. The US government has decided rather than creating more guns they need more soldiers. To bolster their ranks they create the UDS system, making soldiers out of the dead. An outside force intervenes and throws the system out of whack, with cities being overrun within a year. Three of the best AMS agents are sent to take out their leader, an entity named Zed.
Zombie Revenge actually does something a little different with its characters. With three protagonists, yes, they do fit the standard tropes. However each has a secondary specialization. Zombie like Busujima deals extra damage with his melee attacks while Linda is an expert with firearms. For those too neurotic to choose Stick Breitling is your typical well rounder. In the arcade mode these distinctions don’t mean much but they play heavily in the game’s extra modes.
Behind the game’s simple control setup lies one of the deepest battle systems in a brawler. Aside from blocking and rolling there are a large number of combos per character. You can perform various grappling moves as well as charge and dashing attacks. It’s deceptively simple at first but really vast if you take the time to look deeper. It’s not quite at the level of Dynamite Cop but Zombie Revenge has additional mechanics that make it better in my opinion.
Supplementing your melee attacks are weapons. The most prominent are guns; you always have a pistol equipped and can carry a large number of clips. While you can play this like a shooter that won’t get you far. There are subtle mechanics to gunplay. When targeting an enemy the cursor changes color rapidly. At red you’ll deal a critical hit that will almost always one shot an enemy. The closer they are the faster it changes. Taking it a step further, if you charge a shot and fire at red you’ll hit an entire group simultaneously! This particular move is a life saver later in the game, enabling you to clear groups quickly. There are a ridiculous number of temporary weapons as well, from drills, flamethrowers, and lasers. It lends the game an almost Dead Rising feel, although this was first.
There are a few issues that drag the game down. The lack of a lock-on option is sorely missed. The auto aim is wonky and will frequently mark non priority targets. The game delights in throwing as many as five or six enemies at once, leading to a quick death. It’s even worse when using guns. The later stages of the game feature gun toting zombies, hatchetman, and other creatures that attack from long range. Its disconcerting how fast you can die from these sources because of the auto aim. This is not an easy game, even while turning up the credits to fifteen. While the issue is annoying it isn’t game breaking.
Zombie Revenge is about medium in length for an arcade game. While it isn’t easy most will finish it in short order. However Sega went to town giving it replay value through its various new modes. Original mode offers three variations on arcade mode that highlight different aspects of gameplay. Normal mode is essentially easy difficulty, with an increase in on the already high number of bullets, weapons, and antidotes. Battle Mode is pure fluff. There is some depth; you can train characters in five VMU minigames. All weapons found during arcade mode become available here. But it is readily apparent this was never meant for Street Fighter style antics, relegating it to a novelty at best.
Personally my favorite is Gun Mode. Here all gun attacks are doubled in strength while melee attacks are weaker. The caveat is you can only hold two clips at once. This essentially turns the game into a shooter, except one with an emphasis on each individual shot. Mastering the nuance of the targeting system is incredibly fun and it is surprising how well this mode works. Bullets drop like rain but the zombies seem to swarm in greater numbers to compensate. There is a learning curve but it is incredibly fulfilling to steamroll the game once you adapt. Killing a boss in three or four shots never gets old.
Bare Knuckle Mode is the opposite. It completely removes all weapons, forcing you to rely on your fists. While I like the depth of combat the mix of that with gunplay is why I like the game so much. Strictly focusing on hand to hand combat only makes the game’s targeting issues greater. Its also hard to grapple enemies when they attack in groups. If you thought the main game was easy this one is for you.
To be perfectly honest I didn’t expect much from Zombie Revenge. I admired Die Hard Arcade but wasn’t in love with it. But Sega expanded on that game’s mechanics and created one of the better brawlers of that period. Granted that isn’t saying much considering how few there were. But I still think the game is rock solid.