Those who love and adore their pets will do just about anything for them, even if it means spending their life savings on vet bills. And, while that’s definitely a sign of true love, the hero in Deep Silver and Square Enix’s Dead Island: Retro Revenge shows that he’s willing to risk a lot more for his furry friend.
This yesteryear-inspired arcade game begins on a quiet and sunny California day. Our hero — who looks like Jack Black and Tim Schafer had a love child — is resting indoors while playing his favourite game, which just so happens to be Dead Island: Retro Revenge. Yes, he’s playing this game, as himself, within itself. Mind-blowing stuff, it is.
Unbeknownst to Jack Schafer, two evil-looking men have driven up to his small shack with their eyes set solely on his beloved kitty. They kidnap the furry companion and are in the process of driving away before our friend even notices. Once he does, though, his anger boils over and he immediately sets out for revenge.
This isn’t your everyday version of California, though, because this one happens to be overrun with zombies of varying sizes. There’s the grunt, the skinny type who can walk faster than the others, the boomer-esque bastards who blow up when hit, and the hulking behemoths whose ground pounds emit shockwaves. They’re joined by other types, too, including a shielded foe that looks more formidable than it truly is, as well as circus freaks and gun-toting soldiers.
Best described as a variation upon the endless runner design, Dead Island: Retro Revenge tasks its players with getting to the end of each of its 24 stages. There are three acts, with eight levels apiece, and each one has a beginning and an end. At all times, your progress in each is referenced in the bottom right-hand corner of the scan line-filled screen, by a counter that goes up to the 100th percentile.
Heroic Jack Schafer isn’t an invincible creature, but he’s not the one hit-kill weakling that you sometimes see in other games of this ilk. No, he comes equipped with the ability to sustain a few hits before croaking, and is able to pick up medkits; one of which is usually parachuted in at the half-way mark of each stage.
Your goal isn’t to avoid all of the game’s many enemies, but picking the best pathway and trying to stay away from certain types is the key to success here. The ideal path won’t be empty, and will require you to switch between the stages’ three vertical lanes quite often, but it won’t be full of the most dangerous foes. Your best bet is to find the path of least resistance, and kill the zombies that get in your way or come up from behind, via the four different melee attacks that are at your disposal. If you time your hits well (using a faint cursor) then you’ll get a perfect score, although even the most rudimentary hits have the chance of sending an enemy flying into others.
When it comes to the attacks I mentioned, it’s worth noting that each of the controller’s four face buttons correlates to a different move. For instance, square handles the behind the back attack, while X is used for sliding tackles. On the other hand, pressing circle results in a forward push punch, while triangle correlates to an uppercut. This is noteworthy because different enemies require different attacks, and failure to land one (or two, or three) will result in you taking damage yourself.
As you melee your way through each stage, you’ll not only earn score points but also sustainable combos, which will help you place well on the game’s leaderboards. Dead Island: Retro Revenge is not an easy title, though, and because of that I found myself worrying more about survival than anything related to my score. Having to navigate through its zombies, human freaks and environmental obstacles was challenging enough.
Of course, any good arcade game has special abilities that help set it apart, and this one is no different, as you’re able to select one magical power (destructive lightning, a fire breathing dragon or a screen clearing axe attack) and one super weapon (crossbow, t-shirt launcher, or weed whacker) to accompany you into battle. Generally speaking, they’re only one time use aids, though while your magical power is always available to be used once per level, you’re forced to kill flashing enemies in order to earn fuel for your special weapon.
On top of those, limited power weapon (flaming axe, electrical sword, giant hammer) pick-ups are also available, and they’re very helpful in clearing everything in front of you. The same is true of your screen clearing magic and badass special weapons, because using them strategically can easily turn a difficult run in your favour.
With all that having been said, it’s easy to recommend this game to those with interest in its genre. It’s polished, fun and deep, and offers quite a bit of replay value if you’re a leaderboard junkie. Those positives, combined with its Super Nintendo-inspired visuals and sounds, cheesy tone and overload of gore, make Dead Island: Retro Revenge a competent, solid and enjoyable take on the endless runner formula.
Dead Island: Retro Revenge is included in the Dead Island: Definitive Collection set, for PS4 and Xbox One. It can, however, also be purchased by its lonesome.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Dead Island: Retro Revenge won't set the world on fire, but it's a very solid and enjoyable, endless runner-style game. It's challenging, action-packed and filled to the brim with blood and guts, while also featuring an immersive score attack system.