Three Dead Zed, an action platformer from Gentleman Squid Studio, is a very charming game. The art style, reminiscent of some of the zanier late 90s/early 00s cartoons (Invader Zim comes to mind specifically), is appealing and just surreal enough to make things interesting. This off-beat style succinctly pairs with the silly comedic tone the game nails so well, and the exacting platforming mechanics contained therein.
The player is tasked with taking the game’s lab-created zombie through 30 campaign levels, and subsequent challenge rooms. Three Dead Zed gradually starts asking more of the player, as obstacles get harder, enemies grow stronger and more abundant, and the need to switch between the zombie’s three different forms becomes more and more apparent. These three forms, one for speed, one for brute force, and a standard, all around form, each have their advantages, adding variety to a game that could have easily fallen victim to the abundance of similar games that can be found within the platforming genre. Barring a few technical hiccups here and there, as well as an overly easy campaign, Three Dead Zed had me smiling from beginning to end with its fun style, funny story and collectibles, and its tight gameplay.
The game’s first set of levels are mostly tutorials. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun, but it does mean that they are very easy, and have you going through almost a third of the overall level count in no time. While it was seemingly the only way for Gentleman Squid Studio to explain the switchable forms of the zombie and how they must be used in unison to get through each level, it seems as though there perhaps should have been a few more levels added in to compensate for the quick pace of the game’s first third. In spite of this, I did appreciate the humor with which these tutorials were delivered.
Through some funny narration which sets up the eventual breakout/rampage of the player controlled zombie, the games three main control modes are explained very well. You have the normal zombie, which isn’t too fast or too slow, but isn’t going to make any big jumps. His main purpose is to flip switches either activating platforms, or deactivating any of the games many obstacles such as lasers, turrets, and torches. Then you have the fast zombie form, the form I found myself using most of the time. This form enables you to make long or high jumps, and navigate some pretty intricate platforming sections. Finally, you have a towering, tank form that uses brute force and a sturdy health bar to easily smash through enemies and certain walls. Using any of these forms alone would make any level virtually impossible, as the key to making it through almost always involves figuring out when to switch between forms, whether it be between different segments of a level or in some cases, right in the middle of a jump.
Each of the game’s levels, excluding the tutorial section, have your zombie working at the whim of a mysterious conspirator communicating with you through the laboratory intercom, and they each end with you rescuing a cat, knocking off the tinfoil hat that serves as its figurative prison. It is all extremely goofy, with the tone staying consistent throughout, and the extremely light plot elements coming across very well. Each level also contains a couple of collectibles, consisting of both audio logs and stuffed cat dolls. The audio logs provide more gags, highlighting the ridiculous reasoning and background of the human enemies, and the stuffed cats simply provide one more goal to meet for each level.
Considering the fact that most of the game is particularly easy, having these additional objectives in each level serves to flesh out the overall experience and it never feels as though these objectives were shoehorned in just for padding. With that being said, even with gathering a large portion of these collectibles, I was still able to finish the game’s core campaign in about six hours. Personally, I prefer a game to be well polished and not unnecessarily padded out, and though short, Three Dead Zed feels complete, if perhaps a bit too easy.
During my playthrough I mostly played with a gamepad, which is the method of play the developer recommends for the ideal experience. Playing with keyboard controls is functional, but for later sections of the game I cannot imagine that getting the timing down for certain platforming sections would be much fun without the more comfortable layout of a controller. It would also make some of the games technical problems in a few areas much more frustrating do to a less fine level of control.
In a few places, the framerate dips significantly. This was never game breaking for me, and it could be planned around due to it seemingly occurring in the exact same places over multiple playthroughs, but it did happen in enough places to warrant mentioning. There were other cases where movable objects could get stuck in certain parts of the level, and in the worst case this caused me to have to restart a level entirely for lack of an alternate way around the immovable box or crate. These instances are relatively rare though, and never became frustrating enough to make me want to stop playing.
Three Dead Zed is funny, charming, pretty, and above all else, it is very fun to play. The platforming is very tight and making it through each level feels great. The story is extremely light and very funny in a cartoonish sort of way, with an art style that elicited in me an odd, almost nostalgic feeling for a cartoon style that I personally haven’t seen recently. Although the game is relatively short, and there are a few technical problems here and there, this game is still very much worth playing. The zombie concept isn’t ominous or scary here. Instead, it is cartoonishly goofy, and in the process it highlights a concept that sometimes seems fading among increasing elements of drama and realism found in games: pure fun.
Three Dead Zed is available now on Steam for the low price of $5.
[+ tight platforming gameplay] [+ pretty, offbeat art style] [+ cartoonishly light, funny tone] [+ nice variety due to different zombie forms] [+ clever level design] [- campaign too easy] [tutorial section is too long] [some technical issues here and there] [without a gamepad, platforming isn’t as smooth]