Not Dying Today Review
The side-scrolling dead
The pitched description for Not Dying Today is probably not going to immediately win you over. A 2D side-scrolling action game set in the zombie apocalypse? It’s not like we haven’t seen that before. However, the slick design and creative personality of Not Dying Today ultimately offers enough appeal to win you over to its zombie-slaying action, even if the combat itself isn’t exceptionally deep or robust.
Not Dying Today boasts three distinct modes, the first being the main campaign, which also acts as a decent gateway introduction for players to get to grips with the controls and systems of the gameplay. While the Saturday morning cartoon art style initially suggests the prospect of a comical and rhapsodic story, the narrative which contextualizes the events of the campaign, told through short cut-scenes made up of comic panels, provides little in the way of an interesting tale that’s worth following. You are a man, and there are zombies that need killing, and that’s about it, which is fair enough in some respects.
Each of the seven chapters here is majoritively linear in structure, but the proceedings are kept diverse through varied enemy types and entertaining boss fights. Meanwhile, the promise of new weapon and item unlocks provide fair motivation to keep progressing, in addition to the fairly simple leveling system which can statistically enhance your character.
The combat itself, in which you can take out the hordes via a miscellany of firearms, melee weapons or powerful items (which range from your standard molotov cocktail to a timed explosive chicken), don’t feel all too deep or nuanced in execution. Even with the special ability to temporarily transform your character into a giant zombie, endlessly decimating the hordes of the living dead can sometimes feel more like a grind instead of a tense battle with a relentless enemy.
That said, ammo is scarcely rewarded throughout each chapter, meaning you’re often forced to rely on the entirety of your toolset, and the zombies themselves at least provide entertainment value in terms of their visual and mechanical variety. The influences from Plants Vs Zombies is well on display here, as the walking dead shuffle towards you in all manner of quirky forms, be it a syringe-firing nurse or a hulking policeman wielding an uprooted traffic lamp. This ensures that the threats remain diversified throughout your time with Not Dying Today, even if your means of dispatching these threats quickly falls into a sense of repetitiveness.
As with the majority of zombie slaughtering virtual playgrounds, Not Dying Today is best enjoyed with friends, and you can play every available mode with up to three other people. The fairly extensive range of guns, melee weapons, items and upgrades allow each player to specialize and differentiate from one another, meaning you can effectively co-operate as a team of unique combatants rather than a homogenous group of doppelganger Rambos. The diversity of wearable costumes, from a Rick Grimes costume to a Santa outfit, certainly helps keep things colorful, too.
The second mode, Boss Arena, works effectively in two respects. First, it shows off Not Dying Today’s standout feature, the creative boss battles, and second, it provides a true trial in the decision to pit you against two bosses at once. Even the seasoned players, those who have made their way through the campaign and are jumping in with a relatively buffed character, will have a relatively difficult time defeating both foes on their first try, marking this as a genuinely challenging mode to experiment with following the completion of the game’s main story mode.
“As with the majority of zombie slaughtering virtual playgrounds, Not Dying Today is best enjoyed with friends.”
Not Dying Today wouldn’t be a zombie game, of course, if it didn’t feature a wave mode, and such an experience is present in the form of “Endless Mode”. Unfortunately, the fact that the mode boils down to an everlasting onslaught of hordes in a small, closed-off map only serves to highlight the game’s weakest aspect; namely its shallow combat. The slow pace with which the difficulty ramps up from wave to wave means that the exciting action doesn’t really begin to kick off until the later stages, further exacerbating the tedium of the mode, especially if you decide to try it out on your lonesome.
Even when you take its flaws into account, however, Not Dying Today is still a much better product than a lot of the zombie games populating the Steam Store these days, but it can’t quite escape the banality that now often plagues the genre. There’s a decent amount of fun to be had, particularly if you can find a team of four to fight alongside, and the tough boss battles stand out as an impressive highlight, but don’t expect Not Dying Today to hold your attention span for too long.