GraveStompers OUYA Review
GraveStompers is another example of an OUYA game existing just because it can. It’s fairly simple to port Android games to the OUYA as all you really have to do is add controller support. This is made even easier when the game was already originally created to be ‘console-style’, which GraveStompers was. On that note, why not port your existing mobile games to the OUYA? It can hit a wider audience with almost no extra work. It seems that a lot of developers are thinking this way and it’s easy to see why, but it’s not the right way to go. There are mobile games and there are TV games. They have different mechanics and standards. If you have almost the exact same game for mobile as you do for PC or console then something, somewhere has gone wrong. There are very few cases of this being successful and it’s only with exceptional games, such as the great Superbrothers: Swords and Sorcery but unfortunately not with GraveStompers.
Firstly, the story is that a scientist, Dr. Cayhille, has risen the dead with his ‘neurotoxin-c’ extract. Neither the chemical nor the evil scientist are mentioned again. In fact, there is nothing more at all said in the entire game to further the story. A scientist made zombies. Kill them. Did I mention that the main character (and all optional characters) are also zombies or other demon-y things? Why aren’t you evil? How did you die? I dunno. I played the whole game 100% and never found out. The games entire mythos is told through three small dialog boxes during the tutorial. This would be OK if you were told the story through another medium or even if the game was all about mystery, such as the incredible Limbo, but sadly not. Even calling the story ‘shallow’ is too much; it’s pretty much non-existent.
Forgetting the lack of story, the game itself is a 3D action wave-brawler where the goal is to simply kill everything that spawns. You jump into a stage, fight the zombies, pick up bones (the game’s currency), finish the stage and visit the shop to purchase new weapons or characters. Lather, rinse, repeat. The controls are fairly basic, as you can move with the left stick and adjust the camera with the right, lock on to the enemy you are facing, switch weapons, attack and activate ‘rage mode’. It’s self-explanatory and easy to pick up, but it’s only a few minutes in when you begin to look for more. With my melee weapon equipped, I mashed every other button on the controller but it was only the single attack button that did anything. There’s no different kinds of attacks to use or any kind of combo mechanics, you just tap attack (or keep holding and releasing to use the charge attack).
Switching to the gun changes the camera angle to be more over-the-shoulder, which doesn’t feel right as the characters are too small and the camera is positioned too far behind them. This means that your character ends up blocking a good portion of your view and that you must look up at everything you are shooting. The lack of headshot mechanics was also a downer, I at least expected some zombie brains and a bone-us (see how easy this is?). Having to switch to your gun at all seems redundant in a hack-and-slash game when there are plenty of unused buttons available. Having separate commands for guns and melee attacks would have allowed for smoother, faster combat similar to how they are combined in the Devil May Cry franchise (although that comparison is extremely gracious). Even with the weapon switching the melee attack could have had a different input – there are three spare face buttons to make use of! Using the OUYA controller’s horribly stiff trigger as a ‘mash-to-attack’ button was not a good move and it quickly began to tire. The lack of third-party controller support doesn’t help.
At any time, you can have two melee weapons and one gun equipped (with the second melee weapon being dependant on the character you are using). Although using your chosen melee weapon wears it down and lowers the percent of damage it does over time, this isn’t the case for your characters specific weapon and begs the question of why use the other one at all. I didn’t really, instead heavily relying on the character-specific melee weapon the whole game as I didn’t want to spend my bones on fixing up weapons or stocking up on ammo when it’s just as easy to play without them. As there’s no combo or quick kill-streak bonuses, there’s no need to run in and fight. Instead you can stay back, charge the over-powered dash attack and then run into a horde of enemies and release it, which mostly kills anything in one hit and makes you temporarily invincible. I did this for pretty much the whole game and it was incredibly tedious. I didn’t ruin it for myself – using the guns or switching up weapons really changes nothing. The enemies are extremely easy to kill and even without a dodge mechanic are effortlessly avoided.
Between levels you can change your character and weapon load-out whilst you wait for your health to recover. Wait, what? You have to wait before jumping into another game? Yup, it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. You must either wait for your health to slowly recharge or spend ten of your hard earned bones to recover ten HP of your two-hundred plus health-bar. I can see how this works for a free to play mobile game – you want to continue playing and don’t have enough bones, so you spend a buck in exchange for a thousand of them. This way you can keep playing and the developers have made a little money. Everybody wins. Not here. Foremost, GraveStompers isn’t free to play – it’s $3.99 so you shouldn’t have to spend any money in game just to continue and secondly, the OUYA is not a mobile platform where this kind of thing is OK. I’m not on the go, but at home sat there waiting for the annoying health-bar to fill back up. Most of the time I started playing something better in-between and then never went back.
In total, there are four stages (two of which are cemeteries), spanning eighty levels that each contain a horde of anywhere between thirty and one-hundred and fifty enemies. There are a nice variety of enemy types ranging from plain walkers to projectile attackers, exploding creatures and giant demons that each drop one or two bones on death. The problem is that they come in waves that start small, peak way too fast and then suddenly hit a wall so that for the last half of the stage you are waiting for enemies to spawn. It doesn’t help when there are over thirty enemies left and they generate slowly, one at a time all from the same point, forcing you to stand there and wait, killing them as they appear. This is not fun. Ironically, I felt like a zombie staring at the screen waiting for the next monster to pop-up just so I could release my charge attack and kill it instantly.
With no missions or achievements to add any kind of spice to gameplay, no combo mechanics making for repetitive, boring combat and no power-ups besides ‘Rage mode’ that makes you temporarily stronger, there is just no reason to continue playing. I really had to power through to complete this game and the lack of exciting music, or even character dialog to let me know when I’m doing well, makes for a boring experience. There isn’t even high-score mechanics, which are apparent in even the earliest of video games, video games that are comprised of just a few pixels! There’s just not enough going on. In a hack-and-slash game with little variety, I at least want huge combos and kill-streaks, awesome power-ups or fast paced, fun combat that looks cool. GraveStompers disappoints in all of these categories. The look of the game is pretty cool though, even the cliche zombies, but that is just not enough. The game functions perfectly and may be impressive on the tablet because of the different standards, but on a home console with plenty of great alternatives, GraveStompers is not up to par.