Zombie Match Defense is the best new game you're not playing right now, from a developer you've likely never heard of. A mashup of lane defense and match-3, Zombie Match Defense will instantly grab you with its fresh take on these two very tired genres. Gameplay is turn-based, and involves zombie heads appearing on the right, and advancing to the left across a field of perky, multi-colored brains. If a zombie gets to the end of its lane, the scientist standing there dies (in a cartoon-style cloud of bloodless combat). A level is lost when a zombie escapes through an open door left by a fleeing scientist. Zombies are eliminated when they occupy a brain that is matched (three or more of the same type). The game begins with your standard government-issue no frills zombie, but as you advance you will encounter zombies that move diagonally, lock any brain they occupy (preventing movement of that brain), or require multiple matches to eliminate. Of course, there are coins to collect, which can be spent on increasingly effective equipment; Cranes to move zombies back to the beginning can be earned for every match-4, dynamite to explode particularly troublesome zombies can be acquired by completing simultaneous double matches, and shotguns for your scientists are given whenever you achieve a match-5.
Zombie Match Defense features charming hand-drawn graphics, original music, 40 levels with a star-based scoring system, two endless modes, and (hold onto your hats) no in-app purchases. It's been painstakingly balanced for maximum fun, but will require skillful play to get 3-stars on every level. For example, I was stuck on an early level because I refused to accept less than a 3-star victory. I found myself continually losing, and in fact, wasn't even coming close. Then, something interesting happened; I got better. I started to see strategies that I had been missing, patterns that I had been ignoring, and got better at anticipating cascading matches. I'm pretty sure you won't have the difficulty I did (I'm not particularly good at match-3 games) but the point is this game has strategic depth rarely seen in the genre.
Bottom line: Zombie Match Defense is a wonderful little time-burner that has been lovingly crafted by people who clearly love their work. While it's not high profile enough to show up on Apple's front page (yet), it deserves a little love, and anybody who enjoys match-3 and/or lane defense games should download it now.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - The art looks like it was drawn by a veteran cartoon animator. Sound: - 5 - In this case, the sound effects take a back seat to the wonderful music, but both are excellent. Controls: - 5 - Just swipe to play. Dead simple. Gameplay: - 5 - The first match-3 game I've every played longer than 5 minutes. Adding a lane defense component keeps it interesting, which the turn-based format prevents it from getting stressful.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Always look for matches that will eliminate more than one zombie. Whenever there are no zombie killing matches, look for those that will grant you a weapon. If your equipment slots are full and you have a shotgun, give it to a scientist; he/she won't use it unless necessary and you will then be able to acquire additional equipment. The crane is most effectively used to complete matches on the right side of the board, even if the brain it moves is not occupied by a zombie. When deploying shotguns, be careful not to tap on a scientist that is already armed with one or the shotgun will be wasted.