By: Justin Redmon
You might be surprised to find out that Zombie Mine Quest isn’t a Minecraft clone, but instead, an ASCII-based dungeon-crawling RPG, made by none other than Anthony Popp. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Anthony ’s last indie game, Happy Pong; just the opposite in fact, so facing down another release from him had me preparing for the worst. Lo and behold, though, Zombie Mine Quest was actually quite the unexpected turnabout, but there’s good and bad in equal parts to this release.
The good news? Zombie Mine Quest surpasses Happy Pong in nearly every facet, meaning you can actually play it for more than 12 seconds without wanting to thrust a screwdriver into your temple to stop the pain. The bad news? Zombie Mine Quest trips over itself in just as many ways trying to create a deep, customizable RPG experience, making many of its own features seem irrelevant or downright frustrating in the process.
First up is controls, and it’s not pretty. ZMQ operates on a grid-based movement system, where each move is a turn for both you and all the enemies/hazards in the environment. Other than that, you can pick up and place certain blocks via excavating, creating and closing paths, or sleep to regain health. The main issue with controls is that you have a tendency to double (or triple) move for one button press. Although there’s a customizable option for this, far too often the game will slip up, which can really screw things up in a pinch, like stepping into a hazard or a monster’s face for a smackdown.
Now while the main graphic style you’ll be playing with is probably ASCII, there’s actually a few different options to toy around with — these are mostly variants that introduce tiles to take place of ASCII text, as well as sprites for your character, items, and monsters. Playing in pure ASCII text is definitely the preferred style, and though it looks cool, there are some issues that start popping up pretty fast, mainly that differentiating what is going on in ASCII text is really friggin’ difficult, even after learning what each character represents.
Things like poison gas clouds and other hazards will absolutely dominate your screen as well, and the novelty of the ASCII text wears off quickly when you find yourself having to switch between all the different graphic styles to get a handle on where you are and where to go, thanks to the somewhat cramped screen space, though zooming in via triggers does alleviate this somewhat. The other sticking point in Zombie Mine Quest is going to be the music, as love it or hate it, your experience is delivered with a heaping helping of dubstep. I personally don’t care one way or the other, but as far as the in-game tracks go, they’re not that bad. Some are even downright enjoyable, but there are a few that just don’t seem to fit the theme the game is going for, becoming an annoyance in the process .
The gameplay of Zombie Mine Quest centers around you entering the Dungeon of Doom to retrieve the N-Antivirus located at the bottom, 100 floors down to be exact. At the outset, there’s a ton of options on just who exactly you want undertaking this quest. Class, heritage, and personality factor into how your character’s stats start, as well as hidden buffers like crit chance and experience multipliers. The actual game itself is very simple though, with exploring and fighting monsters being handled just by walking. There’s plenty of items to find, with gold, weapons, and armor propping up frequently, as well as scrolls and pills that can either help or hurt, depending on their effects.
For those looking for a bit of extra difficulty, you can take debuffing traits or activate vitals that make the game harder, forcing you to take heed of things like nutrition, hydration, and temperature. With multiple endings, difficulties, and character customizations to unlock, Zombie Miner Quest is chock full of content and supposed depth; simplicity, however, both helps and hurts in the long run.
When it comes right down to it, stats don’t really seem to have too much bearing on how you progress, as even my best efforts to cripple my character didn’t really seem to matter much past the first few level ups, as what items you find and how quickly you do so seem to be the deciding factors between success and failure. That being said, exploration and combat is a boring slog, with harder levels changing far too fast and frequently, as well as monsters bouncing around too quickly to be taken account of accurately.
Vitals seem to be the most noticeable increase to difficulty, albeit extremely unbalanced, as getting ahold of items to refill these meters seems to be function more at the game’s whim rather than smart management. It feels somewhat unfair though to talk about difficulty in any aspect, as you can tweak the difficulty around to an insane degree, affecting monster and item spawns, as well as other factors in the game.
The real kicker for me though is autopilot, which will literally play the game in its entirety for you, collecting every item, killing every monster, and leading you to the often hard-to-find doorway to the next stage. Sure, it’s helpful, but it’s a crutch overall, and its implementation begs the question as to why I should put forth the effort in the first place when the game is more than willing to play itself almost perfectly until it either wins or dies? It saves me the hassle, and runs I wouldn’t have won anyway due to RNG aren’t a waste of time. Bottom line, Zombie Mine Quest skirts the line between accessibility and depth far too closely, undermining key aspects necessary to make this kind of experience worthwhile or fun.
Make no mistake, Zombie Mine Quest is a MASSIVE improvement over Happy Pong, but sadly it misses the mark that it strives for.