Zombies are coming to Xbox Live Arcade, and our only hope lies in the hands of four precocious teenagers with too much spare time. In Zombie Wranglers, these eponymous teenagers wage war on the undead throughout brightly colored cel-shaded neighborhoods with an array of wacky weapons. At a recent Sierra press event, we took a guided tour of the pre-alpha zombie-infested suburbs and brought back the first details on this lighthearted third-person action game. Zombie Wranglers is designed by developer Frozen Codebase to be a fun four-player romp, and the comic tone is evident from the very beginning. The four playable characters include: Uju, the mystic voodoo kid; Monica, the angry goth chick; Amy, the head-phoned audiophile; and Dean, the weapon-crafting tech-head. Each character has a melee attack that stuns zombies, a wrangle pack that sucks zombies up like a vacuum, and a ranged attack for taking downs zombies from afar. They are also equipped with a zombomb, which is a powerful special attack that can take out a swarming zombie horde in one shot. The ranged attack and zombomb are character-specific (for example, Uju has a blowgun and a voodoo doll) and appropriately wacky. The attack animations are flamboyant and colorful in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the game.
There are five neighborhoods in the game, ranging from a slum to an outdoor park to a schoolyard. Each is broken up into a number of chapters with parodic titles, such as Desperate Housezombies. At the end of each chapter looms a boss fight against some sort of wacky zombie concoction, such as the zomball, a large writhing Katamari-esque ball of undead that you have to whittle down zombie by zombie. Each section of the neighborhood is well populated with suburban scenery, some of which can be destroyed for points. Your goal, indicated by a handy arrow at the top of the screen, is to sweep the neighborhood of the undead menace. A variety of zombies populate the area, each going about its business. The comic book zombie reads comics, the skater zombie pulls off ollies or grinds, and the mailman zombie delivers the mail. That is, until you arrive on the scene.
If you get too close to a zombie, it'll take a murderous interest in you, continuing the eternal struggle between brain-eaters and brain-havers. Destroying zombies will earn you zombucks, and the amount you earn will depend on how you slay them. The wrangle pack yields the most zombucks, while ranged or special attacks yield fewer. Zombucks can then be used to activate power-ups from stations that are positioned around the level. Power-ups will help you vanquish zombies more quickly, but spending zombucks means a lower score at the end of the level, which will diminish your chances of topping the online leaderboards.
A multiplayer experience at heart, Zombie Wranglers can handle up to four people simultaneously, either local or online. Rather than split the screen up, local multiplayer switches to a top-down view. There are cooperative and competitive modes, the latter of which has players fighting for zombucks, as well as the highest point total.
The clean, bright, cel-shaded style of Zombie Wranglers is appealing and makes it easy to keep track of onscreen happenings, at least in the third-person view that we saw. Clever bits, such as amusing weapons and funny zombie archetypes, increase the game's charm--a charm that will hopefully hold up as the game continues through development. Zombie Wranglers is slated for release in late summer, so check back soon for wacky undead updates.