Imagine The Walking Dead as a SNES game, attempting to navigate the child-friendly filter Nintendo wielded like a weapon in its earlier days.
The result would be a lot like Death Road to Canada, which – initially at least – seems to explore the jaunty side of a zombie apocalypse.
Your pair of pixelated heroes dodder about, while an infuriatingly bouncy soundtrack plays. You find weapons with which to bash zombies. There are quips! Silliness! The realisation that in a zombie-filled dystopia everyone apparently hides petrol in toilets!
And then your party is wiped out in the space of 30 seconds. Sometimes by an angry moose.
The road to hell
It’s about then that you realise Death Road to Canada is a serial killer with a smile. It’s perfectly approachable, and happy to tell the odd joke, but always mercilessly ready to tear your face off.
The basic premise is that zombies have taken over the USA, and so you decide to road-trip it to Canada with a chum – aiming to not be eaten along the way. Periodically, driving bliss is interrupted by events.
Some are Choose Your Own Adventure-style options, which impact resources and morale. Others involve top-down and frequently tense arcade larks as you scavenge buildings, looking for supplies, and attack or flee from the undead.
Before long, you’ll encounter a siege, which dumps you for a set period of time in a confined space with hordes of zombies. It’s like a twin-stick shooter, only by this point you may be armed with only a broom and brown trousers. You’ll ride out the clock, often by running Benny Hill style as a conga of rotting corpses remains in hot pursuit. Or you’ll sacrifice one of your team in cowardly fashion, buying the extra seconds you need to survive as the undead eat their brains.
In each journey, you’ll figure out more about how the game works. You’ll learn which characters to use in certain situations, who’s worth training up, and who to unceremoniously ditch if everyone starts whining.
But there’s a randomness at the heart of this beast, too. Scenes repeat over multiple games, but you never know whether you’ll end up in a clearing with a black-suited man trying to convince you a nearby alien with a laser gun doesn’t exist, or discovering not only that your team can include dogs but also that they sometimes suggest making Molotov cocktails.
At times, the game’s abrupt nature grates – not least when a moose you try to assist gouges your sole surviving character to death, or when half your supplies are lost because a team member doesn’t spot a hole in their bag. But the game’s so relentlessly entertaining, smart and funny that you won’t mind all the deaths.
And anyway, the clue was always in the title: this one’s about roads and death. And Canada? Well, I’ve not made it yet, but I’ll get there eventually – or die (dozens of times) trying.