With the reduction of cinematic censorship and the erosion of societal taboos, the exploitation film rose to popularity in the late 1960s, trailing the rise of drive-ins and grindhouse theatres. And while the genre’s popularity eroded by the late ‘70s, an emerging home video market and premium cable channels embraced the B-movie, where viewers would consume these lurid, puckish products from the comforts of their own couch.
And while the majority of Western video game developers create content which apes the spectacle of sanitized box office blockbusters, Japan often draws inspiration from the exploitation flick. From the Dead or Alive, Onechanbara, and perhaps even Senran Kagura series, there’s a cottage industry of developers who have an infatuation with pugnacious, scarcely clothed young maidens. Player who find enjoyment in these kinds of low-brow romps will undoubtedly appreciate the release of School Girl/Zombie Hunter.
The PlayStation 4 title emulates the madcap juxtaposition of the exploitation film, impishly blending the melodramatic with the fantastical. As the moniker suggests, the game centers around the events at the Kirisaku Academy, a private institution that’s been besieged by the undead. The sole survivors are a quintet of students, who as luck would have it, are proficient with automatic rifles, handguns, and rocket launchers, as well as martial arts.
Like the intermittent attempts at serious storytelling that are often a core constituent of the exploitation flick, the girls at the Kirisaku periodically engage in self-disclosure when not confronting ‘zom-zoms’. With banter that reflects the type of banter screenwriters craft for young women, SG/ZH’s heroines pontificate about friendship and romance when they’re not blowing the heads off zombies. It makes little sense, but it does demonstrate Tamsoft’s perceptive study of the genre.
The developers also understand a need for the sensational. This is expressed in the desires of the game’s zombies who aren’t really interested in brains, but have a fetish for the clothing worn by the game’s lead. Once per level, characters can create an advantageous distraction, stripping down to their underwear, while the undead converge on the pile of discarded clothing.
While it’s obvious fan-service, the mechanic is quite useful for rounding up a horde of foes, before punishing the zombie pervs with a flood of firepower. An even more powerful distraction emerges halfway through the game, when the girls have the option to shower and change clothes. The dirty dividend of this selection is a pair of worn panties that can be thrown to attack the shambling attackers. This becomes especially useful during base protection missions where the relentless onslaught of attackers can become overwhelming.
But none of these elements would be meaningful if School Girl/Zombie Hunter’s action wasn’t engaging. And much like the Earth Defense Force series, it’s build around a solid gameplay loop. The game’s missions center around six basic duties- from eliminating all enemies, reaching a goal, providing cover fire for allies, or tackling bosses, with most assignments guided by a charitable time limit. With each girl carrying having infinite ammo, the ability to carry five weapons, and the ability to pick up more from slain foes, execution enemies is undemanding but entertaining. The sole issue is SG/ZH’s tendency to beckon new foes in, apparently to keep the framerate moderately solid. In execution, the practice occasionally puts an opponent right next to you, leading to a bit of damage.
School Girl/Zombie Hunter lacks a split-screen option, but participants can play with online partners, across a selection of ten multiplayer-based missions. In our experience, lag sullied the experience, with zombies teleporting around, making aiming a bit difficult. Pleasingly, the single-player experience habitually gives you a CPU-controlled partner. While the artificial intelligence isn’t prodigious, it is certainly helpful, with your companion’s firing angle letting alerting you of threats in the periphery. Later, you’ll need additional help, as the undead enemies become faster and move agile. As such, SG/ZH’s secondary devices becoming increasingly useful, with grenades, trip wires, health-replenishing foods, and AEDs able to resurrect downed allies.
Surprisingly, SG/ZH aesthetics gravitate toward functionality rather than overt sexuality. Sure, the five leads are often in their underwear and with the game’s reasonably priced DLC, they use fruits and vegetables to product the last bastion of prudence. But fundamentally, the game favors the comical over the carnal, setting a contenting mood for the game. Socially, the game offers the sporadic melodic track, but most of the game’s numbers can be a bit generic. That said, the game’s Japanese voice acting is playful, and it’s hard not to smile when the leads announce “Sukūrugāru/zonbihantā”.
Game titles can often be generic or vague descriptors. But School Girl/Zombie Hunter divulges exactly what players can expect, with uniformed students taking waves of the undead in spirited form. While there’s a noticeable lack of polish, like Earth Defense Force, that’s all part of the charm. And like Sandlot’s series, there’s a compelling gameplay cycle to be found, that more than makes up for any trivial issues. Like the exploitation films that serve as inspiration, School Girl/Zombie Hunter certainly deserves a sequel.
School Girl/Zombie Hunter was played on the PlayStation 4
with review code provided by the publisher
Platform: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: November 17th, 2017
Price: $39.99 via retail or PlayStation Store
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate