Some trends are just timeless, aren’t they? Converse Allstars have been a constant popular choice of footwear for well over 60 years, the works of Shakespeare are still adored the world over, and who still doesn’t love a glorious cup of coffee to start the morning (or several to help you make it through the day)? Some trends that you assumed would stand the test of time have all but been forgotten, and some things you thought would burn out quickly are still going strong. The latter perfectly describes the obsession we have with the living dead, the undead and those just damned loveable eaters of brains and other organs: zombies. The living dead have been a mainstay in popular culture since the late, great George A. Romero brought Night of the Living Dead to our screens in the late 60s. Zombies have gotten into every nook and cranny of popular culture: TV, films, books and, of course, video games. Either by killing them by the hordes or trying to survive the undead with limited ammo and supplies, zombies are as popular as ever, and one of the most popular modern zombie survival titles has made its way to the Nintendo Switch; now Death Road to Canada may have found its perfect home on Nintendo’s hybrid console.
First released on mobile devices and PCs in 2016, Death Road to Canada is an action roguelike zombie survival title. It being a roguelike release means that it is a randomly generated adventure with the fearsome perma-death lingering over your head. Perma-death is a conflicting game mechanic, some gamers love it, some hate it and some (yours truly) fear it. Some strive for the challenge, and the fear of starting a game from scratch encourages them; others, like me, can’t deal with the stress. Death Road to Canada is, however, a forgiving perma-death title. Not in the sense that you won’t die, you’ll die, you’ll die a lot, but when you die, it never feels unfair or because the game is just too difficult. You die a lot so you learn from your mistakes, and the next time you hit the road, you’ll be a little wiser, get a little bit further and learn some more lessons along the way.
There is no long, drawn-out plot in Death Road to Canada. You have one main objective: make it to the safe haven of Canada. Those damned, pesky living dead have decimated your home in the United States and the rest of the world, but Canada is completely untouched by the undead. You get there by driving (if you manage to keep your car full of gas and not damaged, if not it’s on foot buddy!) from Florida to the Canadian border. Along the way, you’ll be faced with randomly generated locations where you will loot for food, medical supplies, gas for the car and ammo. While traversing these locations, you’ll obviously have to deal with the zombies that are lurking around. The first few times you are given the option to stop, generally, it’s an easy run and grab. The numbers of zombies are quite small, and you can easily just run around them, pick up everything you need and head back to the car. This isn’t a game where combat should be your only thought. Ammo is scarce, and the melee weapons will break. There is nothing worse than being cornered in a room with zombies advancing on you and your only weapon is a near broken bit of wood. Combat is inevitable, of course, so choosing to avoid it early in your journey will serve you well, especially when a dreaded siege is thrust upon you. Sieges randomly pop up when you’re sleeping out somewhere. The objective is simple: survive for a designated period of in-game time. Sieges are when Death Road to Canada is at its most unforgiving and will spell the end of your journey a lot of times.
Apart from looting locations and surviving the dreaded sieges, there also some text-based events that require your attention. These can range from deciding to stay up all night to telling ghost stories to increase your group’s morale, or how to act when bandits demand half of your inventory to actually deciding what location you want to explore. The wrong decision can have a disastrous effect on your journey to Canada as you could be too tired to fight the next time zombies surround you, or the beating you got from the hands of the bandits could take a huge chunk of your health going into the next mission, and with health only being replenished when you rest at night (if you have enough medical supplies, of course), you could find yourself starting again rather quickly.
When you start a new game in Death Road to Canada, you are presented with the choice of either starting your game with randomly generated characters or you can create some. So, you can, of course, create yourself, your friends and family so you can try and survive with your loved ones or just create whatever you want. Ever wanted to beat the shit out of zombies with Chuck Norris? Go for it! Or have you ever fancied shooting zombies with Peter Griffin from Family Guy? Well, now is your chance! Obviously, you won’t make these characters look exactly like their real life/fictional counterparts, but thanks to Death Road to Canada’s top-down, pixelated graphics, it doesn’t really matter. The option to create your own characters is fantastic. Due to not having an actual ‘story’, you just make up your own as you continue your journey. Fighting hordes of the living dead with whoever you like will never get old. Sometimes though, it is fun to just have randomly generated characters to join your team of 4 survivors because the randomly generated characters can be hilarious.
How does it perform on the Switch, I hear you all asking? Extremely well. The top-down pixel graphics look great on both handheld and docked modes, and gameplay is smooth with both options too. It was a game made for mobile devices, so it was never going to test the Switch’s power, but it looks fantastic, especially with the option to play with a grain filter and flickering screen so it looks like something straight from the 1980s. At the top of this review, I claimed that the Switch is the perfect console for Death Road to Canada, and that was for one simple reason: playing with someone else. Two players can play at once, and the Switch’s portability makes it the perfect console. One side of the Joy-Con can be used as one of the controllers, so there is no need to buy additional controllers, and like with Mario Kart and other games that have that control scheme as an option, it works incredibly well. Either playing on a TV or on the go, you and a friend will have a blast.
Developer: Rocketcat Games/Madgarden
Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 25th April 2018