The Game: You can pinpoint the exact moment when Zombi U became one of the biggest titles at E3. It came halfway through Ubisoft’s press conference on Monday, when host Aisha Tyler said, “This next Wii U exclusive is an M-rated survival horror first-person shooter that drops you right into the middle of a zombie apocalypse.” M-rated? Shooter? Zombie? On a Nintendo console? Even before the eye-popping trailer, Zombi U was already the great shining hope for anyone who wanted the new console to be more hardcore (and less cutesy) than the Wii. Also, who doesn’t love zombies? (No official release date, but Nintendo claims it will hit stores within a couple months of the Wii U launch.)
What We Played: A level set outside of Buckingham Palace and inside of a spooky abandoned nursery. You play as a survivor searching for supplies and battling off roving undead. If you die, you go back to the beginning as a different survivor… and as you replay the level, you run into your first character, now resurrected as a staggering zombie.
The Good: From what we saw, Zombi U has a dark-edged look that feels genuinely transgressive in the context of the last half-decade of Nintendo’s history. From what we saw, the subject matter of the game doesn’t stray far afield from the tried-and-true trappings of the zombie genre. You forage for supplies. You try to find medicine. You shoot walking undead in the face. You keep finding crossbows just lying around the streets. (Only cockroaches and crossbows will survive the apocalypse.)
Of course, in one respect, the game is utterly unlike any other zombie game in history. As one of the first Wii U titles, Zombi U fully incorporates the Wii U’s GamePad. When you want to check your inventory, the Pad’s screen shows all your items — on your TV screen, meanwhile, your character is looking into his backpack. There’s no inventory screen force field; you could be attacked at any time.
The Not-So-Good: The problem is that Zombi U mostly utilizes the Wii U’s capabilities in ways that feel a bit random, if not downright silly. Besides the fallback “map” option — a common thread in the Wii U games shown at E3 — one of the main uses of the GamePad is the “Environmental Scanner.” You look through the Pad’s screen at the TV and can see into boxes and through walls. Basically, the Environmental Scanner lets you find out whether or not there’s any ammo inside of a box. Usually there is. So then open the box and get the ammo. Future of the interactive medium, here we come!
Excitement Level: On a scale of 1 to 10, Zombi U earns a 6. Now, it’s impossible to make a game about killing zombies that isn’t at least a little fun. And it’s entirely possible that, even if the GamePad functionality isn’t all that revelatory, Zombi U will turn out to be a fine addition to the Wii U’s launch titles. But there have been a whole host of videogames about the undead, and right now, Zombi U isn’t offering anything new.