EDITOR'S NOTE:
HA HA HA WII SCREENSHOTS. Fuck me. Don't expect quality today, folks. It's a shame 'cause this game actually looks much nicer when the shot quality hasn't been violated.
Click then to make them bigger, but it probably won't help too much.

If there's one genre that died way too soon, it's the crosshair shooter. It had a shaky start in the mid-80s with Data East's Shootout and Seibu Kaihatsu's Empire City in 1931, but in 1988, Tad released Cabal, and showed those punks how it's done. Cabal set the standard for the crosshair shooter- a defensive roll, hugely destructible environments, and everything else people associate with the genre. From there, everyone just copied Tad (including Tad themselves with the Western-themed follow-up, Blood Bros.) which lead to games like Taito's Rambo III, V-System's hilarious Spinal Breakers, and Neo-Geo launch title NAM-1975. After that, though, with the exception of Wild Guns for the SNES (generally regarded as the pinnacle of the genre) the crosshair shooter died. Some say it just changed into the third-person shooter, others say that Treasure's Sin & Punishment is its ultimate evolution, but the traditional crosshair shooter- just you, a bunch of enemies and a lot of background objects to destroy- is all but dead.

Isn't it delightfully fitting, then, that the revival of the genre involves gunning down the living dead?



Zombie Panic in Wonderland comes to us from Akaoni Studio who hail from Spain, made up of staff from Gammick who released a neat Ikari Warriors-esque game called Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ for the DS in 2008. The producer from that game now works at Akaoni, and you can tell he has a thing for fairytales, as Zombie Panic in Wonderland is more folklore vs. zombie action. 'Amorous' ghouls have suddenly invaded Wonderland, and so a selection of fairytale characters- including Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland (the third time she's appeared on this site) and Momotaro from Japanese folklore- get armed to the teeth to solve the mystery of the love-struck zombies. By blowing their fucking heads off. In its favour, the story's pretty funny, as the game has little cut-scenes between stages presented in Shiny-Anime-VisionTM. Naturally, this is totally at odds with the subject matter, which makes it really amusing, and this trend continues in-game- it's all very cartoony and adorable, despite the carnage going on. The different characters are nice, but also a missed opportunity- all seven characters (you start with two versions of Momotaro, with Dorothy and Snow White unlocked during Story Mode, and the others after beating Story Mode a few times) function the same way (although Dorothy/Alice/Riding Hood have a slightly easier-to-judge defensive roll) so it's just personal preference who you pick.



Now, when I said that every game of this kind copied Cabal, it should come as no surprise that this is still true to this day. Akaoni even cite Cabal and Blood Bros. as their main inspirations, and that's what Zombie Panic in Wonderland is- Cabal with zombies. Even down to the silly dance your character does when they clear a level. For those who've never played Cabal, here's how it goes: your character's at the front of the screen and is limited to moving left/right and moving their crosshair to aim shots, with the enemy hordes heading towards you. The objective is to mow down anything dumb enough to shuffle on-screen- in Cabal, you had a meter showing how many enemies you had left to kill, and Zombie Panic does the same thing with a 'Clean-Up' percentage, which lets you move on when it reaches 100%. Just like Cabal, you have a standard machine gun, an ammo-limited super-weapon that does huge damage to anything you can catch in its blast radius, and of course, a defensive roll that renders you invincible for a few sweet moments- get hit when you're not rolling and you lose a life, lose them all and you have to start again. Finally, just like Cabal, you can blow up stuff in the background- trees, buildings, etc.- for fun and profit.



Of course, Zombie Panic also makes a few changes to the formula, and they work really well. For starters, the controls. You aim your crosshairs with the Wii Remote, fire your weapons with B (standard fire) and A (super-weapon), and move your character/roll with the Nunchuk. Being able to aim at any part of the screen does takes a bit of challenge out the game, but you're also expected to be accurate. Since these are the living dead we're talking about, you've got to aim for the head to take them out quickly. Later enemies have other weak-spots (including some powerful knights that need to be shot in the body instead), so you have to make your shots carefully to survive. You also have four weapons from the off- as well as the machine gun and grenade launcher super-weapon, you can switch to a heavy machine gun that cuts through enemies like butter and a flamethrower that doesn't do too much damage but can cover a wide area in seconds. You might think this makes things even easier, as other crosshair shooters make you fight for your special weapons, but you get very little special weapon ammo- they both have their uses and you're dead if you're without them when you need them, so you can't waste them! Besides, the game adds a timer for more challenge- if you can't get the Clean-Up percentage to 100 before six minutes are up, you have to start again. That sounds a little infuriating, but it's barely a problem until the last few stages, and it keeps the pressure on.

Zombie Panic's best assets are its enemy variety and the destructible environments. As well as standard zombies, you've got ninjas, crows that try to kill you from above, lumbering tree-men, fat zombies that try to tackle you, archer zombies, exploding zombie chickens... Each stage in the game adds a new zombie type and shuffles the enemy roster around a little, keeping things fresh, and each enemy grabs your attention in a different way. The bosses are also clever- destroying certain background objects and boss parts (yes, even on the second boss) changes their attack patterns, albeit slightly. The best thing is definitely its use of destructible environments- you can destroy nearly everything on screen. Everything. Trees, market stalls, castle walls, towers, haystacks, even the Yellow Brick Road and tufts of grass. The scope for destruction is far greater than in other games of the genre, and this wanton devastation actually does more than reveal hidden items- collapsing turrets and trees can kill enemies standing near them instantly, and destroying stuff adds to your Clean-Up percentage. This makes destroying it all the more important, and on the last stage in particular, you'll need to take advantage of the scenery to beat the stage in time. The only thing they should've done with the scenery is give you cover, as in Cabal, but since the enemy shots are much easier to shoot down, it's not a huge problem.



Now, as much as I'm clearly in love with this game, I'm not gonna lie- it's got a few issues here and there. The main one for most people is that this game is going to be too short and maybe too easy. There's three areas (a Japanese town, the Yellow Brick Road and Snow White's castle) split into three sections (two normal, one boss encounter) and except for the boss sections, they all have the six minute time limit. On average, you can get through the Story Mode in just over 45 minutes, probably less if you bring a friend along. However, for me, it's just the right length- any longer and I would've lost interest, any shorter and it wouldn't have been enough. The difficulty, depending on your experience with the genre, might be a little on the easy side- the game doesn't get challenging until at least halfway through, but having to aim carefully adds a little to the challenge. The game tries to make up for its short length by including a Hard difficulty (which probably should've been the standard), an Arcade Mode that lets you pick any section you've cleared, and beating the game unlocks a 'survival' stage set amongst pirate ships which offers the expert gamer a real challenge.

As for nit-picks, I've got some of those too. For one, you have to cycle through the weapons one-by-one rather than switch straight to the weapon you want. If you switch to the heavy machine gun then want to go back to the standard gun, you have to go through the flamethrower first which might make you waste ammo. One really annoying flaw is that, as some of the later stages take up the length of two screens, you can sometimes be hit by projectiles thrown by enemies you haven't seen yet. This is mostly done by the white skeletons who use boomerangs, and while it doesn't happen too often, when it does, it's infuriating, and the only way to avoid it is to roll when scrolling the screen or take extra care when you know there's a white skeleton around. Finally, the walking speed of the characters is a touch too slow, but since you've got the roll, it's not so bad. Just a few touch-ups in these areas would've been nice.

Zombie Panic's main flaw- and it's a tragic one- is that it took inspiration from the wrong game. Rather than looking at Cabal and Blood Bros., Akaoni should've studied Wild Guns instead. Natsume's classic SNES crosshair shooter has a few things- some useful sub-weapons, indicators to show where enemy shots are going to land, more bosses- that, if put in here, would've elevated the game from being very good to being absolutely essential. All of its other qualities, though- the weapon system, the rampant destruction, the cheery-yet-morbid art-style and even the Rareware-esque soundtrack- make it an easy recommendation to fans of this neglected genre. Yes, even after all these years, Cabal still has the advantage- it's much more difficult, for one- and Wild Guns still rules the roost, but considering this is Akaoni's first shot at the genre, this is impressive stuff. While it's by no means perfect, it's entertaining, charming, and deliciously moreish. Pick it up today and do your part in ridding the world of zombie scum!

For bringing a long-dead genre back from the grave, Zombie Panic in Wonderland is awarded...

In a sentence, Zombie Panic in Wonderland is...
Not a successor to Cabal's legacy, but a damn good imitator.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!





Two years after the original WiiWare release, Zombie Panic in Wonderland was ported to the iPhone and iPad.



Rebranded Zombie Panic in Wonderland Plus, the game is free to download, but you'll only get Momotaro as a playable character and just one stage to play. To get the full game, you can either do the whole in-app purchase rigmarole and buy individual level packs (one for Story, one for the extra Alice in Wonderland maps), cheats (including boosted/infinite secondary weapon ammo and infinite continues) and characters (just buy Dorothy and have done with it, if you're a cheapskate) for various amounts (4.99 for the infinite heavy machine gun, you big spender) or buy the All-in-One pack for 8.99 to get pretty much everything. That's two whole pounds more than the Wii version, for the tight amongst you.

The only substntial new content is in the form of the additional Alice in Wonderland-themed stages that aren't part of the main story- like the rest of the game, it's two normal levels (the first stage isn't too special but the second is in a dense forest with you being flanked by caterpillars using trees as cover) and a boss fight (the Queen of Hearts who uses card soldiers and the king (?!) to fight you). The Survival mode stage is also still in the game, but it's a separate purchase unless you go for the All-in-One pack, and at the time of writing has not yet been implemented (it's 'coming soon'). The graphics has also been improved, as they're a lot more vibrant and there's additional details (the grass in the Yellow Brick Road stage has been replaced with a small cornfield and destroying the Tin Man's hat reveals a giant purple afro underneath). Finally, recent updates have added Christmas-themed costumes for Momotaro, Dorothy and Snow White, and a Gallery mode where you can just, well, stare at the models for the main characters (at the time of writing you can look at everyone except Little Red Riding Hood, and this mode shows that the game has jiggle physics which of course you can't see in gameplay).



As for the actual game itself, first and foremost the controls are obviously different, and they work well for the most part. You move by tilting the phone, shoot by touching the screen, launch rockets by double-tapping, switch weapons by tapping the icon (yes, you still have to cycle through them) and perform an evasive roll by sliding your finger. It's pretty workable, but the slide is trickier to pull off consistently, and despite the game trying to help you (a new warning sign will appear if an enemy is attacking off-screen) on the iPhone in particular your hand will sometimes be covering the action. This is especailly bad in the boss fights, as it's difficult to tell when to roll. There's some other changes as well, such as two player mode getting dropped, the bosses having proper life-bars and gaining new attacks, but the main negative change is that the Clean-Up percentage has been replaced with a Zombie percentage which only increases with killing enemies, so destroying the scenery no longer counts towards beating a level (although you get a destruction bonus at the end of each stage). This is a shame, really, as that was one of the more interesting parts of the WiiWare version, encouraging you to find as many destructible parts as possible to beat the timer.

The inconsistent rolling controls, the removal of the Clean-Up mechanic and the fact that your hand will cover a bit of the action weaken this iOS port- I'd still recommend the Wii version- but it's still a good Cabal clone, just now portable. If you're one of the people who thought the Wii original was too expensive and don't mind being unable to play as Little Red Riding Hood, you might want to just get the story mode pack for 2.99. Unfortnuately, if you want the rest of it you'll have to pony up 8.99 for the All-in-One pack, as buying it all separately is more expensive... But this is in-app purchases we're talking about. You should've expected that.





And now, gifts.

Zombie Panic in Wonderland - Mission in Snowdriftland Gifts

Tons of Bits, a German game studio, have a flash-based platformer/advent calendar game called Mission in Snowdriftland, where upon completing each level, you unlock a door on an 'advent calendar' with goodies like wallpapers and icons based on games from different indie developers, including Gaijin Games, Broken Rules, and our pals Akaoni Studio. As Mission in Snowdriftland has been taken off the 'net (it's seasonal, y'know) you can't get the extras. For you, then, we saved the Zombie Panic in Wonderland freebies- a wallpaper and icons with the cast in pixels.

Enjoy!

By the way, thanks to Twitter user @RahanAkero, we now know that Momotaro here is saying 'I'm a guy!'. So thanks for that.



Perhaps some day Gaming Hell will get some decent capture equipment.

Because man, just looking at the iPhone screenshots compared to our Wii ones... Yikes.

You what this site needs? More zombies. Until there are more, go back to the index. And wait.