You’ve got to be impressed with the kind of gonads a developer team would have to have to look at the whole zombie arena thing and think to themselves “hey let’s do a no-frills, budget version of that!” Undead Battle Royal is a perfectly playable game, but “saturated” doesn’t even begin to describe this space. I have absolutely no idea who Undead Battle Royale is even for. Not me, though. That’s for sure.
Now, in fairness to the developers, they’ve given you a lot of content for such a cut-price game. There are 12 different arenas to play on, and they are meaningfully different in layout and aesthetic. There’s dozens of different character combinations to choose between, and while there’s no story or campaign mode, there are local leaderboards and support for up to four players, making this a party game-orientated experience. You can work with your teammates, or try and undermine them so you can win the round and get the most points, and because matches are nice and short, you’ll be able to swap controllers around easily enough. The controls are nice and accessible, too, so if you somehow do find yourself playing this at a party, it’s set up for decently-sized groups and beer.
The game itself works fine too, starting you off with some relatively slow, sedate zombies before ramping things up as the score grows. There’s a consistency to how guns, weapons, and environments work, and while this all might be damning the game with faint praise, it does have to be said that there are far more cheaply produced, cynical games out there. This one seems like a committed effort by a small team to do something within the genre correctly. It’s playable, and if you’re somehow able to overlook the many, many other games that offer this exact experience elsewhere at much higher production values, you can have fun with it.
But there’s no online play. The menu’s a bit deceptive about that, as it has “Single Player,” “Multiplayer” and “Local Multiplayer,” but all that means is that you can choose between linking up to four Nintendo Switches for local multiplayer, or split-screen when only one Switch is available. There are no online leaderboards, either, which is a terrible oversight for a game that exclusively exists as a points-building arcade action title. Finally, there’s no real personality in the thing. The blocky characters are superficially fun, and the levels are all intricate and filled with little nooks and crannies, but with no narrative nor context, it’s just a bunch of arbitrary levels and blocks moving about the space. You can’t climb ladders or vault around levels, so there’s little reward to experimentation, and while the controls aren’t broken, they are a little sluggish, so there’s not enough twitch action to feel like there’s a learning curve behind the really big scores.
Finally, the sense of humour that went into the characters didn’t transfer to the action, which is rather sedate and flat, and the no-frills approach quickly makes playing the game an uninspired drain. The one exception was the time I climbed a bunch of stairs and there, in a hospital room, was a bunch of zombies and, for some reason, a horse. Which I thought was a normal horse, but it attacked me so I assume it was actually a zombie horse. That was an amusing enough moment.
The reality is that if you’re going to make an arena score-attack game featuring zombies, you’re going to need to do something really different at this point. Undead Battle Royale doesn’t get there. It’s not even close. There’s nothing outwardly wrong with it, but there are so many other games you could be playing instead, and every second that you spend in this game you will most definitely be thinking that exact thing.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb