Mike Russo's Spring Thing 2024 Reviews

Zomburbia, by Charles Moore, Jr.

In my experience, an amusement park appearing halfway into a game that hasn’t previously established said amusement park as part of its premise is typically a sign that the author has given up on their own theme (OK, my experience here starts and ends with Sorcerer). So I have to confess I winced when I stumbled out of Zomburbia’s haunted bayou and came upon a zombie midway – but then I smiled when I got to the description of the bumper cars, where zombies wearing trash cans ran around bumping into each other while burbling motor noises with their decaying lips. Sure, this is a bit old-school for my tastes and maybe not great game design in some abstract sense, but it’s so good-natured and entertaining, it’s impossible to stay mad.

To subject Zomburbia to a degree of pretentious literary theory that it is probably too innocent to deserve, the midway could be synecdoche for the whole: this is a decidedly 80’s style adventure, complete with inventory limits, hair-trigger unwinnability, and a find-the-deed-to-the-haunted-mansion-you-just-inherited plot (someday one of these games will inform the heir that if getting the deed is going to be too much trouble they can just go to the county registrar to get a replacement; sadly SUE ESTATE LAWYER FOR MALPRACTICE goes unimplemented).

I am typically somewhat allergic to such things, and I have to admit that I gritted my teeth the first couple of times I borked a playthrough by not knowing the exact right actions to take in a five-move timed section, or found myself juggling items between my pockets, my backpack, and the ground in an area I wasn’t going to be able to revisit. But Zomburbia’s bark is worse than its bite – notably, there’s an option to allow the SCORE command to tell you whether you’ve made the game unwinnable, and typically an UNDO or two will be enough to get you back on the right path. There are roving zombies, but they’ll typically ignore you for at least a couple of turns, and again a single UNDO will rescue you from their clutches. Similarly, while the game suggests that there’s an overall time limit setting a clock on your adventures, this is either a head-fake or just set at an absurdly generous level so that it adds flavor without frustration. And eventually its goofy enthusiasm won me over.

Make no mistake, there are some rough edges here – there’s a lot of unimplemented scenery, some guess-the-verb issues (PSA: you can’t POINT or AIM the laser pointer at anything, instead you have to SHINE it), at least one read-the-author’s-mind puzzle (or at least if there’s a clue about how to get past the muscle zombie, I missed it), and I found a couple bugs, though the author was responsive about fixing the one I flagged (details on the others are in my transcripts, including a game-breaking one where the steamboat didn’t start sinking even after I blew up the boiler – fortunately I had a convenient save).

But look, this is a game where a skeleton band plays “I Left My Heart (in the Other Room)”, which boasts an actually good dumbwaiter puzzle, a giant alligator out of Peter Pan and ooky spooky ghosts out of the Haunted Mansion, and the world’s politest hedge-maze (it has a sign out front telling you you don’t need to bother mapping it!) If you have any affection at all for throwback puzzlers, Zomburbia is a great excuse to put on a headband and a Member’s Only jacket, slide a Van Halen cassette into your boombox, and enjoy a nostalgia trip that’s actually better than we had it back in the day.

zomburbia mr 2.txt (208.2 KB)
zomburbia mr.txt (175.4 KB)