It's a familiar story from our teenage years; you go out on a date and despite the occasionally stilted conversation and nervous laughs, everything's going to plan. Typically though, just as you are about to get serious, your girl gets kidnapped by megalomaniac zombie monsters intent on taking over the world. So now you're forced to trek through several levels of punishing platforms whilst being attacked by assorted Thriller rejects to get her back into your loving arms. The things we do for love... but don't be too down, because with your newly acquired power to throw laser bolts, you still have a chance. Who knows - with a bit of luck, you might even get her home just in time for the drive-in.
Invasion Of The Zombie Monsters plays like a Nintendo Gameboy platformer, with bits of Super Mario Land mixed in with all the (many) others that came out for the old mono machine. With its power ups, coins, and fixed enemy patterns topped off by the classic end of level bosses, it's as familiar as an old pair of slippers. It even has an impressive introductory sequence telling the story so far- so common on old GB titles. Admittedly after a couple of games you'll be pressing fire to skip through it, but it sets the scene nicely.
Zombie Monsters has been released for both the Spectrum and the MSX, and in this instance the MSX has the edge. While there isn't a huge difference graphically between the two, the MSX version looks just that little bit nicer, plus there's some parallax scrolling to spice up the backgrounds. More importantly, the MSX version plays better without the character block movement that compromises the Spectrum release; everything is smoother and quicker. If you're using emulators to go retro and don't have a fanboy fixation on one particular machine, this is the version to go for.
COME AND GET IT! IT'S A RUNNING BUFFET!
Still though, there is room for improvement on the gameplay side. For a start, I don't understand why the programmers chose to make so few restart points in the game, as I can't think offhand of a single platformer in the past where this approach improved the playability. In IOTZM it's made more irritating by the fixed positions of everything, be it the obstacles, the zombies approach or the power ups, and to also return to the same places every time just heightens the repetitiveness of it all. Surely it would have been better just to let the game continue from the last death point rather than go back again. I would have mixed things up further by including a more random attack of zombies to keep the player from going through the motions, a feeling that after a few goes is inevitable.
In spite of these grumbles, we still have here a highly competent side scrolling platform game coded professionally with good production values. It also has a variety of fine tunes that complement the atmosphere perfectly. Yet there remains something unsatisfying about the whole product. Why would that be? Certainly the derivative, often predictable nature of the game has something to do with it. The attack pattern to defeat the first end of level boss- shoot several times then jump over him as he rushes towards you, jump back over then repeat etc etc - is about as original as an Oasis single. In fact, the whole game in general plays like about 30% of the product released on the Gameboy after 1991. Of course, at OSG we see homages, remakes and conversions all the time. That in itself is not actually the problem; it's more that the genre in question is hardly the most imaginative in history. It isn't a coincidence that most of the interchangeable tie-ins from back then were structured along these lines. Once you've played a few of these games, you've played them all, and anything else in the same mould seems like a one way ticket to Cliche Central. Even in this backward-gazing world of retro gaming, familiarity breeds contempt.
After all that criticism, I must conclude by playing devil's advocate. Invasion Of The Zombie Monsters may not be my favourite homebrew of the year, but it's still a decent game in its own right, and the ability of the programmers, Relevo Videogames, is unquestioned. In future, I would like to see them turn their obvious talents to a game in the spirit of, say, UWOL by The Mojon Twins, which has elements of old classics we can all relate to, but with an added spin on the genre to make it something new. Without doubt, this is missing ingredient of IOTZM, and if they can find that indefinable 'oomph' somewhere, Relevo could end up at the very top of the current homebrew scene.