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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Android game review: Samurai vs. Zombies Defense

Editor’s Note: Over the coming weeks, we will begin to feature select user-generated content in our main site feed. Everything is still in beta mode, but we wanted to experiment now. Read on for a review of Samurai vs. Zombies, and let us know how the author did!
The Basics:
Samurai vs. Zombies (SvZ) was released in March 2012 by top freemium developer, Glu Mobile. This game is a mix of tower defense and action as you get to fight the zombies with your main character, and summon units during combat to help stave off the zombie horde. You will have the ability throughout the game to upgrade your samurai, upgrade the units you can summon, upgrade some of your defenses, and buy special items to be used on each stage.
Freemium: The game is free to download, but some upgrades in game cost Glu coins which can be purchased in app. Glu coins can also be earned by downloading and running various titles advertised on the main menus, dropped in game, or by completing offers.
The Nitty Gritty:
Glu has used many iterations to monetize their freemium games, and this one is no different. One of the permissions is to ‘boot at start’ which concerned me at first. Sure enough when the game is closed or you reboot your phone, Glu’s ad engine starts up and stays running until stopped. This engine has the possibility of pushing notifications to your bar (though I did not see any in three days of playing). I personally like apps to close when I close them, so I frequently closed the ‘running’ SvZ processes after playing the game. One thing I DID enjoy about this game though, is all the advertisements are in the menu areas only, so once the stage is started you don’t have to worry about ads getting underneath your fingers.
Gameplay and Strategy:

The object is simple. Waves of zombies will enter from the right side of the screen, and you have to fight them with your character, summon minions to help you do so, and prevent them from getting to your Sacred Gate which is on the left side of the screen.
The distance between both sides of the map is pretty far, and it takes a few seconds to run all the way to the right side and back. Your samurai will run faster going towards your portal, then away. One trick to keeping enemy waves at bay is to run up to them so their attack animation starts, then run out of range and repeat.
Upgrades and Units:

Once you finish the small tutorial, you will be presented with the main upgrade menu.
The first tabs to the left represent upgrades to your character, the second one refers to units, and the third one is for consumables that can be bought with Glu coins. In the first two tabs you will be able to upgrade much of your units and characters’ abilities using just the coins you collect in each stage. At certain points even these become capped and must be upgraded with Glu coins.
Here is a breakdown of the upgrades worth getting:
  • Hero: Upgrading your hero increases your HP. This isn’t terribly important until level 20, when boss zombies can one shot kill you if you’re not careful. I upgraded this a few times throughout the game, but did not focus on it.
  • Bow: Each upgrade gives you bonus damage to your bow, and later causes arrows to explode doing area damage. When your character is not in melee range, he will automatically pull out the bow and shoot. Some later zombies are flying and can only be hit with the bow. I maxed this out first as running in and out of melee caused too many frustrating deaths for me when I mis-timed my retreat.
  • Leadership: Upgrades how fast your summoning points accrue, and the max amount you can have at once. I found early on that upgrading this is necessary to completing the game. Spend some money on Glu coins, or do what I did – browse the offers and download every 10+ coin game you can and run it once and uninstall it. A half hour of this will get you maxed leadership. I’m not even sure if the game is beatable without high leadership.
  • Sacred Gate: Upgrading this gives your Gate more HP. It starts very low and the upgrades are pretty substantial. In later levels it will be easy for ‘fast runners’ to get by you and get a few hits on the gate. Without upgrades your gate goes down fast. I upgraded this twice between levels 20 and 40.
  • Village Bowmen: I upgraded this just once for some extra damage when things were going down hill. They can’t be killed and provide a small, but constant damage stream to incoming enemies.
  • Warding Bell: I updated this a couple times. Every once in awhile the zombie horde would get near my gate and the damage isn’t terrible, but combined with village bowmen – sometimes every point of damage counts.
  • Lethargy: Now this is a staple ability. This abilities slows all enemies on the board for a certain amount of time. Upgrading it increases its duration. After a few upgrades it becomes invaluable for a ‘bow’ samurai to keep the zombie horde at bay while he plinks away at them.
  • Divine Intervention: This ability starts off at 55% chance to summon 1-3 units at random from your available roster. This will NOT summon Nabanuga or any other special characters. When it works, it can be a life saver, but it’s expensive to upgrade and at 65% switches from coins to Glu coins. I had fun with this and Panzer Samurai, but the inconsistency eventually led me to other more useful abilities.
  • Troop Trample: The creme’ de la creme ability. This monster ability summons a ‘cloud’ of damage that travels across the screen. It starts at 5000 total damage and upgrades by 1000 each time. It’s Glu coins only, and I did upgrade it once after downloading some more apps. This ability ‘eats’ zombie health as it passes by until the total damage runs out. This ability alone can take out an entire wave early on, but some later bosses will need to get hit multiple times before succumbing to its damage.

All unit upgrades increase damage and health. All units also upgrade to a certain level with coins before reverting to Glu coins for further upgrades. I started off upgrading archers and sword warriors but in the end pumped all my money into farmers. Keep reading to find out why.
There are 4 special units in the game that must be ‘found’ by collecting random presents that drop from zombies.
Each special unit upgrades it’s basic partner unit when on the battlefield. The rifleman upgrades archers, Swordsmith upgrades swordsmen, etc. The upgrade is nice, and the special units are low cost to summon, however they only upgrade when they are in certain range of their partner units, and when killed, must be resummoned. Special units cannot be upgraded.
Roster and Spells:

After upgrading your units and abilites, you will select your allies roster. These will be the only units available to you during the playing of the level. Early on I only selected Panzer Samurai and archers, as I wanted Divine Intervention to have fewer units to select from at random. Later on though, the Panzers died too fast and took too long to summon so I gave up on Divine Intervention and just used Lethargy and units I could produce fast to slow the zombie waves down.

The next screen lets you choose only two abilities to take into battle with you. From level 30 on, I used just Lethargy and later, Troop Trample. I toyed with upgraded lightning but i almost always died when trying to run close to maximize it’s damage. Another important note here is to notice the gate and the zombies in front of it. This is the array of zombies you will face, which can impact what spells you choose.

The final screen you get before you enter battle is the Charms screen. You can buy or pick up charms throughout the game and use them. Once you select one, it will be attached to your health meter to remind you which one you used, and once the level is complete or you die, it goes away and you have to get another one. I didn’t use too many of these, but the ones I used the most were Wealth and Peace. Each one is explained when you press it, so I won’t go into detail here.
HUD and Gameplay Strategies

When in game, you can see a variety of things going on, and it’s rather intuitive the way it’s set up. The skull represents the % of zombies you have killed for that level. The sword is your health bar. Coins and Glu coins are represented at the top right, and the sushi icon will automatically heal you when pressed if you have sushi in your inventory. The bottom right has your two abilities you chose before entering the level, and bottom left will display up to 5 units you have chosen for your roster along with their leadership cost. The yellow circle displays your leadership and how many points you are accumulating – the two arrows on the bar represent where you can ‘upgrade’ your leadership for that level, increasing it’s max and speed temporarily (effect ends at the end of the level). The summoned units move slowly from your gate to the right, and the zombies move slowly from the right to the left. Let the massacre begin!
In the early Levels it’s pretty easy to summon a few units, move in and out of danger and slash your way to victory. It’s important to note that coins and other loot that drops from zombies do NOT add to your totals at the end unless you COLLECT them! I died many times running into a horde to get that shiny golden box, only to be killed on my way out and lose the gift. When you finally destroy the last few zombies, your character will go into an animation but you will still be able to move him and collect coins. Run him over the loot dropped by the last zombies before the game fades to the results screen!
Zombie archers can be a problem, pelting your front units from behind zombie lines – melting them with ease. To combat this you need lots of units crowding the front. Or build up your samurai’s melee abilitys, run through the front line and cut the archers down yourself. Later on, enemy healers and buffers will do the same thing, increasing the HP and strength of the zombies in range, and healing them. Run through and cut them down, or do what I did, and just overwhelm the front line with damage. Using lethargy not only slows down the walking speed, but also the animation speeds too, thus reducing the speed at which the healers can heal – and giving you an opportunity to finish off a tough foe if used correctly.
Flying units aren’t too much of a problem, but it is important to note that your samurai will focus flyers over melee zombies when they are present. If you upgraded your bow, these guys won’t be an issue.
Level 30 is when this game starts to show it’s difficulty. You’ll get plenty of waves, with boss zombies (sometimes 3-5 of them) in front, and mass archers, healers, and buffers in back. I used Divine Intervention and Panzer Zombies to keep the front lines stable, and mass produced archers to get through these levels.
Around this time you will begin getting the ‘bomb’ zombies. These guys move very fast and will hit your Sacred Gate before you know it, blowing it up. Lethargy, and other ways to slow them (as well as lots of running back as fast as you can to catch them) are in order to save your Gate from crashing down.
Even at max leadership, it becomes difficult to produce large numbers of tougher units like Panzers and Frostie Bowmen for levels 40-50. Especially when the boss zombies one shot kill them. So I started thinking outside the box, and decided that mass producing was better than producing smaller numbers of heavier units. I went with Farmer spam! I could produce a new farmer every 3 seconds, and keep the front lines of the zombies pretty tied up while I waited for my Troop Trample to come off cooldown. For levels 40-50 I simply produced farmers all the time, and relied on my upgraded bow to blow down groups of enemies and let Troop Trample finish them off. It’s not pretty, but it worked.
Overall SvZ is a highly enjoyable game, and the monetization isn’t the worste I’ve encountered in some freemium apps. It’s worth the download and 4-5 hours of fun. I give it 8/10 simply because at level 50, I had only half my stuff upgraded, and the game just starts over. Adding more levels to try other strategies would give it a score of 9. It will always lose 1 point for running in the background when the game is closed.

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