Unlike many of my contemporaries, I still enjoy an occasional session of Dynasty Warriors. Slicing through throngs of enemies can be strangely cathartic; a therapeutic conclusion to a busy workday. When I first saw Undead Knights at E3, I assumed the title merely substituted ancient warriors with ravenous zombies, and ratcheted up the intensity of Dynasty Warriors’ bombastic metal soundtrack. Fortunately, that first impression was misguided- Undead Knights is a skillful amalgam of genres that might even appeal to gamers who’ve sworn off exploration of the three kingdoms.
The game’s storyline is little more than a reworking of the revenge tale, told in a brief, but skillfully rendered cutscene. In the kingdom of Cavalier, an aging king falls for a youthful bride with sinister ambitions. Speaking up against the treacherous queen, three members of the Blood family are put to death- until a mysterious force brings them back to life. Awoken from their mortal slumber, each member of the Blood family is endowed with the ability to turn living souls into member of the undead. Players use each member of the reanimated trio traverse a series of levels, and seek retribution on the nefarious monarchy.
The fundamental structure of each mission is similar- players will battle foes, turn them into zombies, and use the undead subordinates to achieve a goal. However, each level throws a slight variation at players- from funneling the protagonist through a thin corridor to placing them in a room full of lance-equipped bloodthirsty knights. Gamers will need to assess each level to find life-refilling vessels, and progress halting obstacles within each environment.
Before each level starts, players may choose which member of the Blood lineage will be thrown into the fray. Romulus is the slow but powerful behemoth, Remus forsakes strength for agility, while Sylvia has an extended range of attack. Each protagonist has a unique weapon, and variety of power-up abilities, creating a slight incentive to replay levels.
Each member of the Blood brood has two melee strikes- a regular attack is performed with the square button, while the triangle evokes a heavy assault. A tap of the circle button can transform enemies into an undead minion. Players are encouraged to whittle an opponent’s health down before conversion, otherwise other nearly foes will attack the player during the necromancy. Once a lifeless legion is amassed, players may direct the group to attack more demanding enemies, topple structures, or form ladders and bridges. Watching zombies work cooperatively to form a hand-to-foot makeshift bridge is wholly endearing- it’s unfortunate the game doesn’t offer more of these darkly comical moments.
Undead Knights’ biggest setback is the game’s inaccurate control scheme. While player can pick up a zombie and throw the corpse to stun a boss, there are just as likely to pick up a living adversary, or hurl the underling in an errant direction. Although the game’s camera is controllable with the PSP’s digital pad, occasionally Undead Knights doesn’t keep the protagonist in sight, making the warrior an effortless target for foes.
Graphically, Undead Knights is competent with a handful of flourishes that elevate the title above typical PSP fare. The game’s limited number of characters models are rendered with a modest polygon count to maintain a speedy framerate, although each is easily identifiable on busy battlefields. The occasional splash of blood will remain onscreen, which reiterates the game’s ghoulish tone, and secures the game’s Mature rating. Neither the game’s blistering metal soundtrack nor its repetitive sound bites are remarkable, but contribute slightly to the title’s overall enthusiasm.
Undead Knights isn’t a revolution PSP game; the title is a capable amalgam of Dynasty Warriors‘ swordplay, Overlord’s minion-directing, with just a dash of puzzling. While controlling a band of zombies can be invigorating in short doses, the title doesn’t offer quite enough depth or polish to warrant its forty dollar MSRP. There’s grisly fun to be had for sure, but most gamers might want to wait for the first instance of a price drop before seeking their blood-spattered retribution.