Beginning life as a series of humble Flash games, Zombotron has made its way to PC and Mac. This side-scrolling action/shooter from Ant Karlov and Armor Games really has little to do with traditional zombies. Instead, you play space mercenary Blaze Rush, exploring an ancient, monster-filled crash site on a far-off planet. As you comb through seemingly endless corridors and underground structures, you piece together a mystery of sorts. It’s an easy story to lose track of, not terribly coherent even in its best moments.
Zombotron doesn’t stray far from the 2D action game template that has served dozens of similar games, but it does add a few cool touches and mechanics. Many elements of the environment are destructible, and it’s fun to dispatch enemies by demolishing walls, dropping crates, exploding barrels, platforms, bridges and other pieces of scenery on top of them. Of course, Blaze is equally impacted, so often those plans go awry along with the health of our hero. Although ammo might always be in short supply, there are lots of weapons to find and the levels are peppered with secret areas and treasure.
Zombotron has an appealing, detailed, hand-drawn art style with lots to look at, but over the course of the game, there isn’t much variety in the color palette, environments or enemy design and it all begins to feel repetitious as does the music. The game is aiming for a witty, ironic tone in the writing but unfortunately, it’s pretty bland and rarely actually funny. There are some amusing interactions between enemies and Blaze and his AI sidekick but overall, the characters and story fade into the background.
The biggest issues in Zombotron come from the controls, which never feel really good or well-tuned, either using a gamepad or mouse and keyboard. There is a constant and frustrating lack of precision in aiming, shooting, jumping and overall character animation — combined with the unforgiving, nearly roguelike nature of combat and limited ammunition — that brings the entire gameplay experience down. As fun as the physics are, there are equally as many ways to get stuck. At least in part due to the controls, the stronger enemies and bosses can be incredibly frustrating and often feel wildly unbalanced, though the developer has continued to address this through patches and updates. It isn’t just the combat that’s impacted by the sluggish controls; exploring the levels and solving puzzles along the way aren’t helped by badly controlled jumps that end up in a pit of stakes, either.
Colorful explosions and a variety of guns aren’t quite enough to carry Zombotron to the finish line. This all-grown-up Flash game is weighed down by repetitive design, frustrating controls and bland storytelling. Zombotron isn’t a terrible game but neither does it generate much excitement. It’s a reasonably competent side-scroller in a marketplace full of similar titles. Fans of the Flash game will appreciate that Zombotron has evolved, but those unfamiliar with its humble roots might be less impressed.