Hot on the heels of Rayman Fiesta Run comes another very highly rated game, this time debuting on Windows Phone and coming to iOS and Android afterwards. Deadlings has very high production values, addictive and challenging gameplay and a pay/IAP model that seems fairly well pitched. Cuddly zombies, spinning saw wheels of death, occasional blood and guts, plungers and platforms, teleport beams, alien spiders, it's all here in a tale of mock horror...
At heart, Deadlings is a classic combination of strategy and arcade timing - you'll get the idea from the two screens below. First you plan your convoluted path around a fiendishly designed maze, with traps at every turn, you plan which characters you'll use at each stage, and then you tap to start the action, with everything from then on happening in real time - whether your fingers are quick enough or not:
But step back a stage, because Deadlings is worth it. You can tell a top notch game title because the developers have bothered to create top notch artwork - in this case an animated back story involving The Not So Grim Reaper starting up a factory of sorts from which baby zombies have to escape. Or something like that. And yes, Death itself has a social network account - '0 friends'! Ha!
Either way, it's a polished introduction to a polished game. There's a trial version, but I was so impressed after half a dozen levels that I stumped up the couple of pounds or Euros - and yes, there are some possible in-app-purchases (IAPs) on top, but I'll come to those later.
Four 'phases' of fifteen carefully designed levels are currently available, though with extra phases teased as 'coming soon'. Although the first half dozen levels are geared more towards teaching you the various level features (glue, buttons, barriers, etc.) and the various zombie characters (half a dozen types eventually emerge from Death's labs), you'll need the extra help and even these starting levels are polished and fun.
There's a 'three star' system (a la Angry Birds), but a more important metric is how many brains you collect along the way. Ahem. Yes, brains. Along with skulls and stars, this means that Deadlings effectively has three in-game currencies at times. Don't worry too much though, because most of this stays out of the way thanks to that initial purchase clearing the gameplay decks for an hour of fun before you even have to think about adding extra resources.
Backing up the two screenshots at the top, it's important again to realise that there are two separate games here, locked inextricably. The 'strategic' side of things, wherein you pan around the new level, planning what's going to happen, zooming in and out and with zero time pressure. And the arcade game, in which action is relentless and you desperately try to stick to your plan - or improvise along the way. In a neat gameplay twist, you can use the control shown above to switch between the two modes at any point. So, for example, it's all going horribly wrong and you can't remember, in the heat of action, exactly what's above or below or wherever - so you switch modes, have a look around and take a deep breath - and then it's back into the saw-swirling, zomble-blood-curdling action all over again:
The mix of cute zombie types is key, too. Much like the different types of Lemming back in the classic title from the 1990s, each of the types has a different way of moving, a different skill, if you like. Some run and jump, some bounce, some fly, some crawl, and so on. And on the harder levels, you'll need to combine all these to get through the level - you're told up front how many of each type are available. Which, if you think about it, gives you some vital clues as to how you should be thinking about the puzzles on offer:
The mix of puzzling and arcade reactions is heady enough, especially when allied to this much polish, but Deadlings goes the extra mile which some nice touches of humour too - zombie jokes and observations act as placeholders while levels load. There doesn't seem to be much variety in these at the moment, but doubtless more aphorisms will appear as the game and its levels get updated in the coming month or so.
As you progress through the levels then, brains are collected, skulls are earned, stars build up and you start to wonder what they're all for.
Although, after the initial purchase, you can play right through all Deadlings levels without any further monetary involvement, this does suppose that you play and plan perfectly - or you play less perfectly and take a lot longer in terms of tries. But for lesser mortals, there are a number of ways to make gameplay less frustrating, and these do involve using the in-game currencies.
'Rescue packs' let you carry on within a level even when you've used up all of your 'deadlings' (zombie characters), to save you starting what might be a huge level all over again:
While the 'Eliminator' tool lets you selectively remove a particular trap (e.g. a spinning saw) that's causing you trouble:
The there's the 're-animator', where you can bring a deadling that's just been killed in a vital level back to life, starting it off from a safe place and letting it carry on to hopefully complete its mission:
Plus there's the option to use a bunch of skulls to skip a problematic level altogether.
It all adds up to a game in which you don't have to use IAPs, but you probably will... at some stage, especially if you get really into Deadlings. You can either buy more skulls, more deadlings (in case you die too often within levels and your (ahem) 'raw material' runs out) or more eliminator/re-animator powerups directly, or, rather helpfully, bundles of all of the above:
From my own gameplay (a couple of hours worth), I'd estimate that a skilled player might make it all the way through Deadlings without needing any of these, but would probably need to top something up at some stage. In which case an extra pound or so (or even the smallest bundle) will probably do. At that point, the player would have paid just over £5, which is a fair price for what will have been (say) ten hours of intense gaming.
Lesser skilled players, with slower reactions, will need more help if they want to get further in the game, at which point the IAPs start to hurt the wallet more. But even in the worst case, for the clumsiest player in the world, the total outlay will have been no more than £16.50 (in UK money). Expensive for a mobile game, certainly, but that's a) the worst case and b) a whole heap more palatable that some other mobile games flaunting maximum IAPs of up to £100.
But let's finish with a joke. A zombie joke:
Deadlings is currently a Windows Phone exclusive, so take that iOS and Android (for now). Part brain teaser, part hand-eye coordination test, part exercise in macabre zombie humour, Deadlings passes every test with more or less flying colours and gets my recommendation.
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at