It feels strange, if not a little blasphemous, to say this, but I think that the zombie genre has jumped the shark. Don't get me wrong, there are still some fantastic ideas to be mined out of the living dead genre that George Romero first tapped over 40 years ago, but there are also some very questionable uses of the hungry dead that just feel…odd. They have become so culturally omnipresent that they have infected virtually every form of media with a cannibalistic pandemic, no matter how inappropriate their application may be. True, you get some fantastic diversions like Treyarch's Zombies mode in various Call of Duty games, or the deliciously dark "Blackest Night" crossover in DC Comics years ago, but sometimes it just gets weird. There was even an episode of the superhero soap Smallville that had an outbreak in Metropolis and a zombified Lois Lane…bizarre.
However, there is a tendency for smaller game developers to apply a (rotting) skin to virtually any game type out there to cash in on the craze. Puzzle games, strategy games, life sims, even card games have had various zeds shoehorned in for ghoulish effect. Now the oddly popular casual game genre of one-button running, which spawned hits like Canabalt and Jetpack Joyride, has been overrun by zombies with Zombie Carnaval, a free running title that puts players in control of a rampaging horde of zombies on the quest for, what else, brains.
Normally I wouldn't find it necessary to discuss a game like this on FEARnet, as they're little more than diversions, meant for quick gameplay bursts on bus rides and bathroom breaks. However, Zombie Carnaval is so perfectly executed in its simplistic silliness that it practically consumes you. As stated before, you control an ever-growing gaggle of googly-eyed green ghouls as they sprint across a ruined landscape (must be the Zack Snyder variety), leaping over chasms and consuming whatever hapless civilians happen to get their skulls trapped in their hungry maws. Eating a civilian gives you both a brain—which are traded in for prize-awarding scratch tickets—and another running rotter to pad out your putrid platoon. As your horde grows, you gain the ability to flip over cars, buses, and tanks and snack on the humans inside, as well as keep running even as your horde is thinned out by hazards like bombs, helicopters, or the crevasses that look to make you all dead again. It's as simple as can be: a single finger press sends your group leaping, and the duration of your press dictates the distance that they travel.
It's Zombie Carnaval's fun-loving attitude that really sets it apart. The game's graphics have a wonderful Claymation look that evokes the Penny shorts from Pee Wee's Playhouse, and the process of zombification elicits giggles instead of gags, flipping the shrieking pedestrians into the middle of the zombie pack where they become undead in a puff of smoke. The game's power ups are equally silly, transforming the galloping ghouls into a laser-blasting mutant, a completely non-regulation football team, or a clan of somersaulting ninja. As grim as the concept is in a nutshell—an ever-growing mob of flesh-eaters that destroy all in their path—the presentation is incredibly cute.
So while the zombie craze has, in ways, jumped that proverbial shark (which it should be fighting, according to Fulci), I'll tolerate the occasional genre declawing in exchange for absurdly fun games like Zombie Carnaval. It's a perfect storm of iPhone gaming: fun, simple, and cheap.
Zombie Carnaval is available from the iTunes App Store for 99 cents.