Despite its horror-tinged associations, Dungeons & Zombies looks on the surface like a cutesy, kid-friendly casual game timed to capitalize on the buzz of Halloween.
It’s child-friendly in one sense, in that it’s totally free of gore. Coming into contact with a zombie doesn’t result in the customary bloodbath. Instead, a little blue vortex appears, concealing the horror beneath.
But, as puzzlers go, Dungeons & Zombies is almost certainly too challenging for all but the most precocious youngsters. No judgement here – it’s too challenging for most grown-ups as well.
The gameplay will be familiar to fans of Sokoban, a puzzle genre based on a 1982 game about pushing crates around in a warehouse.
Dungeons & Zombies takes place in, you guessed it, a dungeon, or rather a series of them. These dungeons are made up of grid squares, and you move between them with horizontal or vertical swipes on the screen.
The aim in each level is to reach the staircase leading to the next stage. Making this difficult for you are – hey you guessed right again – zombies.
Zombies are harmless as long as you’re not sharing the same row or column. They just stand there looking daft. But as soon as you venture into their line of sight they come to life, and the next time you move they dash to the point where you’ve just been standing.
That means you need to get out of their way. If you move into a zombie’s line of sight with one move and out again with the next, it’ll rush in a straight line until it hits a wall.
You need to use this pattern of movement to your advantage, shuffling zombies out of the way and making sure none of them is facing the exit, since you can’t leave if you’re being watched. Each dungeon is a different shape, with pillars and walls giving you the surfaces you need to get your zombies where they need to go.
This basic puzzle mechanic is tough enough in practice, but the game quickly adds a couple of extra elements.
These are piles of bones that you can’t pass through, so you need to encourage zombies to clear them for you, and brains that attract zombies, effectively reversing their direction for a single move. These work pretty much like piles of bones, except zombies don’t clear them.
Dungeons & Zombies is made up of four worlds, or packs, each containing 30 levels. Two of the worlds are available from the off, while the other two – Adventure Pack and Extreme Pack – cost 99p each.
Rather than forcing you to work your way through these levels one by one, unlocking each stage with stars collected from the last, the game lets you pick any level you like from the first two-thirds or so. The rest you need to unlock. This helps to alleviate the frustration of a particularly tricky puzzle, since you can always just try another.
There’s more relief to be had in the form of solutions. You have five free solutions to use, and these recharge over time. You can also buy five solutions for 99p, or get a free one for watching an ad.
As you’d expect, putting in the time will eventually save you from having to cheat. Dungeons & Zombies is a tough puzzler, but that just makes it all the more satisfying when you start to find your feet.
If you like to be challenged, and you’re looking for a bracing alternative to the inconsequential free-to-play casual puzzlers that dominate the mobile charts, Dungeons & Zombies is worth a look.