In the year whatever of our ongoing war with anything versus zombies, I have to say I’ve seen it all now. With Dwarf Madness ($1.00) and its cast of four color-coded, gold-seeking, cave-exploring little-r people, we’ve officially exhausted every option for a sparring partner against the venerable undead. There can’t be any form of man or animal, real or fanciful, that’s yet to take its turn on the front lines.
Dwarf Madness is a twin-stick shooter. Yes, it forces me to drag out the much-despised ‘zombie wave shooter’ tag, but zombies play only a marginal role in the game, one of several different types of enemies (it’s not even the most dangerous; that honor belongs to those damn flying cherubs). And while the levels are labeled in successive waves that contain ever-increasing amounts of baddies, the main objective is collecting loot and upgrading your weapon / character RPG-style when you visit the store after each run.
The standard arsenal applies; pistol, machine gun, shotgun, sniper, and launcher. Ammunition is infinite, so go ahead and fire away. It’s playable with up to four in local co-op, sharing lives (but separate HP) and the camera, while competing for the same finite gold reserves. Although it’s undoubtedly better with friends, single-player is a fine alternative, thanks to random gold layouts and tricky AI with a mob mentality. On the higher waves, you’ll have to carefully clear out rooms and corridors.
Taking the place of a traditional story, the shop and its enterprising owner are your keys to the kingdom, in terms of progression. Acquiring gold and buying out his stock advances the game in ‘chapters’, accompanied by some generally witty writing. It’s nothing too deep or groundbreaking, mind you, but the style compliments the action without taking up too much of your time. With these story bits usually comes fresh unlocks, that enable you to max out your preferred gun or offer permanent stat boosts and perks, like reduced weapon recoil, an extra life per run, etc.
You only ever fight on the same solitary map, but once you’ve progressed enough in the shop, Hard mode becomes available. This allows you to show off your upgraded weapons and dwarf against a tougher set of re-skinned foes, with twice the gold to collect per wave and a higher percentage of gold drops from defeated enemies. It can’t take the place of a new environment or mode, but it’s a nice way to extend playtime and scale the difficulty. With the frantic arcade gameplay and multiple online high scores to chase, it’s not disheartening enough to disappoint.
Dwarf Madness doesn’t have the most inspiring title, and may turn off some with the mention of zombies, but the game is genuinely fun and easy to pick up. It’s more than worth your time until the next unlikely protagonist (Dinosaurs?) takes up the never-ending fight against those flesh-eating moneymakers.