Heads will roll…
Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a cult classic horror flick from 1978 famously catchphrased “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”, but in this spirited debut from German development studio Sluggerfly, the dead don’t walk, they run. Now this game is certainly not your typical zombie game, but my praise for Ben and Ed and the team behind it has grown in leaps and bounds with every minute I have spent playing it. To put it simply, Ben and Ed is a phenomenal first title from an up and coming team, and without a doubt it has infected the zombie genre with something special.
In this eccentric indie you play as Ed “The First Undead” who, just a few minutes after winning the silver medal in a fun run, tragically dies of a heart attack. For reasons unknown Ed becomes zombified and wanders aimlessly for days until he meets his pint sized companion Ben. An extraordinary young boy in many ways, Ben is pleased to find Ed and the two become good chums.
As fate would have it, their freaky friendship is cut short when Ben is abducted by a rich and ruthless madman, a grotesque game show host named Hans Showman. Showman, the evil entrepreneur that he is, has devised “Rundead”, a Wipeout style game show that poor Ed is forced to compete in in order to win Ben’s freedom.
As the star of Rundead you must dodge, duck, dip and dive to complete one chaotic obstacle course after the other and progress through the game. Decorated with cavernous gaps, deadly blades, rolling boulders and many more horrendous hurdles, the twenty-three levels in Ben and Ed increase in difficulty as you advance and though the obstacles become somewhat familiar, the game never feels repetitive or dull.
Running blindly into the path of a whirling blade will only set you back a second or two as our undead hero manages to remain relatively unaffected by the result of a spontaneous amputation of a limb. No, a missing limb or three certainly won’t stop our Ed and he is more than happy to roll, crawl or drag himself toward the finish line, as long as he has enough body parts left to do so. This mechanic makes for the often hilarious looking dash (or shamble) toward your goal. Missing your head makes things slightly more difficult for Ed on the course but fortunately he can detach and reattach his undead dome at will. This technique really does come in handy (pun intended) when Ed is required to hurl his head at a target or through a technique to unlock new pathways.
Adding to the non-stop action is a killer electro soundtrack with punchy percussion and ghoulish synth to truly capture the energetic essence of the game.
Ben and Ed is occasionally frustrating but this is in no way a discredit to the game, in fact the challenging nature of the game is very much an attribute of Ben and Ed. The level of difficulty is ideally balanced and keeps the player motivated to conquer the many stages of the game without feeling as if multiple do-overs are too grinding nor the quick run-throughs too simple. Though the temptation to rage-quit may spring to mind once or twice, it is ultimately silenced by a far stronger desire to win which makes Ben and Ed an incredibly rewarding experience. A benefit of this style of game-play is that players are encouraged to beat their personal best, to strive to shave off those extra few seconds and slam that speedrun.
The mechanics of the game have a very natural feel to them despite the cartoonish art style of Ben and Ed. The saturation of colour and design of the graphics gives Ben and Ed a charming demeanor reminiscent of Double Fine Productions.
Though the game itself is a treat to look at, mastering the art of Rundead is a tricky task even for seasoned platformers. Fortunately Ben and Ed’s motions are smooth and the controls are seamless. Paired, these attributes facilitate a gentle learning curve that allows players to find their rhythm within the game quite quickly. This said, you may find a controller slightly easier to manoeuver but sadly, the instructions that describe control mapping within the game are designed to explain just the keyboard and mouse.
In the traditional manner, this platform game also features collectibles which allow you to unlock new levels. One activity involves knocking down pyramids of the unfortunate sounding snack, canned ‘Candymeat’. Crashing through at least fifteen stacks in each level will help you advance and earn achievements along the way.
Ultimately Ben and Ed has something for everybody, a heartwarming story, fast paced action, dexterous platforming, collectibles and of course a splash of light-hearted gore to remind you why you love a great zombie game. Ben and Ed is perhaps not for those without patience and the ability to persist after several failures, but for those in for a good laugh and the challenge of a missing limb here or there, this game is an absolute delight to play.