We all love zombies. They’re just so cute with their playful brain chomping and whatnot, and it really irks me to see developers discriminating against the cheerful buggers by incorporating them as mere cannon fodder in their games! Remember the mansion incident in Resident Evil? – Yeah well, those police officers were breaking an entry and the zombies were just trying to chase them out! Dead Rising? What, so now zombies can’t go to the mall without being piledrived by a 220lb reporter who’s “covered wars… ya know!”? It’s downright shameful, and those that have walked in the shoes of a zombie should understand that there’s so much more to their kind than meets the eye. Back in 2005, Wideload Games made Stubbs the Zombie for the original Xbox, and it was a real hoot! They taught us that zombies are capable of driving tractors and breakdancing their way into the hearts of the living.
If that hasn’t tugged at the old heartstrings, then maybe Ben and Ed will. Developers Sluggerfly have made a charming entry to the indie scene with this hilarious 3D physics based platformer. It follows the story of Ed, a miserably oppressed zombie who is forced to partake in a macabre gauntlet gameshow hosted by the heartless Hans Showmaster. Ed’s goal is to save his friend, Ben, a similarly oppressed young boy… of the living variety. There’s 23 stages in all, and not one of them could be called easy, but you could certainly call most of them fun.
The first thing I noticed about Ed is that he’s surprisingly nimble for a hunk of rotting flesh. His default running speed puts Usain Bolt to shame and his jumping and acrobatic abilities are also gold-medal material. That’s not the only trick he’s got though, as being a reanimated corpse apparently has its physical advantages. For a start, he’s technically invulnerable and is pieced back together at each checkpoint when he’s had a mishap but besides that, he can remove his head and toss it into otherwise impossible to reach areas. You can even control his severed noggin independently, much like Stubbs’ removable hand in the 2005 Xbox game.
It helps to get familiar with all of Ed’s abilities though, because when the chaos begins in earnest, you’ll need all the help you can get to conquer the perilous stages. It starts off rather tame, with narrow runways peppered with swinging blades and hidden pitfalls, but soon enough you’ll find tougher obstacles like hammers swinging on a pendulum, and lasers dancing in all directions. Other than that, there’s the occasional boss battle to worry about which are portrayed as huge mechanical monstrosities that have to be scaled and destroyed at their weak points. If, or rather when you fall victim to a saw blade or pesky laser, it’s not necessarily the end of Ed’s run; you see, being a zombie and stuff, Ed can hop with just one leg, or even claw himself onward with his hands when fate robs him of both lower limbs. This gives Ben and Ed a great comical edge over similar games, but it’s also a great gameplay mechanic in its own right. Maybe you’ve just reached a gap to the next checkpoint but you can’t jump it because you have no legs. What to do? Easy. Just rip your head off and toss it over to register the checkpoint, then hit ENTER to respawn, fully assembled, at said checkpoint. Ed might be dead, but he’s one enterprising dude.
Ben and Ed is deadly hard, but tonnes of fun. One could be mistaken for assuming that getting Ed sliced, diced, bashed and battered is what this game is all about, but the real star of the show here is the level design. All the obstacles are placed to be challenging and fun to tackle, and getting to the goal at the end feels like a real accomplishment, even if you’ve destroyed two keyboards and a mouse in the process. There’s only a few minor issues with the experience that could benefit from a patch, such as the hit detection (particularly with hammers) which sees Ed being knocked into oblivion even though no visible contact was made. Also, checkpoint placements are just a wee bit stingy, but that’s picking holes, because I had a great time with this game and I’m certain you will too.
Developed with Unreal Engine 4, Ben and Ed has a visually striking appearance that boasts great lighting and effects, and couples superbly with the dark comic strip art style. It’s consequently taxing on hardware, requiring a minimum quad core processor and 8GB of RAM to keep things running smoothly. However, even if you have to turn the settings down, it’s still worth it just to enjoy the uninterrupted bedlam of platforming goodness.
Ben and Ed deserves to be enjoyed by a much larger audience. It’s got that magic where I feel it could just go viral at any moment, becoming the next indie gem you have to play. Take my advice, don’t wait until its old news, get this game now and tell your friends. Then again, if you want to pass on a new indie game that looks this good, sounds this good and plays this good then you, sir, are missing out.
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