Lately, the App Store has started to feel like a bad episode of ‘The Walking Dead.’ While there are some truly great zombie games, some developers seem content to throw together slip-shod rehashes of old titles, throw in a few shambling walkers, and call it a day. Luckily, Three Rings Design’s charming strategic puzzler Corpse Craft injects new life into the undead with whimsy, style, and enough challenge to have you hankering for brains yourself.
When the game opens, we find that all is not well at Weardd Academy, a school for the study of ‘responsible reanimation.’ Grudges have festered between the various schoolchildren, and fierce battles designed to see whose monstrous creations reign supreme are threatening to tear the school apart.
You play as Jack, an aspiring young reanimator with honor to defend. In each of the game’s 14 levels, you pit your lethal walkers against those of your unsavory peers in an attempt to take back control of the academy.
So weird, he spells his name Weardd.
The game design is delightfully grim, and looks as though it was hand-drawn and scripted by Edward Gorey. It’s complete with forlorn, macabre characters, and darkly comic poetic narration for each story level. Additionally, it contains a high degree of technical polish and attention to detail.
Gameplay is an effective mix of castle vs. castle strategy and tile-clearing puzzles– think Battle of Puppets meets Collapse. In order to combat your opponents’ waves of monstrosities, you must match groups of tiles (designed to look like bone, blood, and assorted viscera) in order to create and launch your own salvos of undead destruction.
The first seven levels, which are available as a free download, are simple and provide little, if any challenge. You build your arsenal incrementally, starting with slow-moving, knife-handed zombie trollops, and culminating with gigantic, chimeric abominations. Gradually, you’ll learn the strengths and weaknesses of each warrior and contend with a unique night-and-day time mechanic that causes your shamblers to wither and pop in the sunlight.
Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make!
Once you shell out $3.99 for the full version via in-app purchase, the remaining seven story mode levels are unlocked, as well as a never-ending survival mode, and unlimited 1v1 and 2v2 multiplayer matches. You can play only ten rounds with the free version.
In the second half of the campaign the difficulty spikes dramatically, but sometimes inconsistently. On our playthrough, some levels presented a moderate challenge, while others led to endless frustration, retries, and cursing. Still, there’s something satisfying about watching your final herd of bloodthirsty zombie dogs explode, taking out your opponent, while your own tower lies on the edge of annihiliation at the hands of an bloated fleshbeast.
As the story stages progress, the game also forces you to think in an increasingly strategic manner. You must build your defenses, allocate your resources efficiently, steal buffs from your nemesis, and time your waves so that the rising sun doesn’t turn your army into bubbling goo. As such, the developers have turned what could have been a simple, one-note puzzler into a rich, addictive killfest.
The multiple brides of Frankenstein.
Once you slaughter your way through the story mode, which, at 14 levels, is not especially long, Corpse Craft’s Game Center-enabled multiplayer, achievements, and survival modes provide plenty of replay value. In our experience, multiplayer matches were easily set up and flawlessly executed, provided our opponent didn’t jump ship mid-battle.
If we have one gripe, it’s that the game is only available on the iPad. This is the perfect game to tote around and play in a waiting room or in line at the supermarket. Even so, we understand that the game’s busy action might prove prohibitive for the iPod/iPhone’s smaller screen real estate. On the iPad, Corpse Craft is a welcome addition to the zombie genre and receives an unqualified recommendation.