Platform: DSiWare | Nintendo 3DS eShop
Developer: CIRCLE Entertainment
In the blighted husk of a once-idyllic Andean mountain town, a mysterious young girl strides out to face a horde of ravening undead horrors. Armed with nothing save a baseball bat and memories of her former life, she dives into the fray; lashing out wildly at the beasts that were once close friends in a desperate attempt to save the last few survivors. And then she gets killed within scant seconds, to be greeted by a Game Over screen and the start menu.
This will probably sum up your first half hour with The Lost Town: The Dust... but there's more to this tough little genre hybrid than first appears. It's high time we got involved now that CIRCLE Entertainment has made their European debut on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.
Essentially, The Lost Town: The Dust is a blend of basic RPG mechanics with a few notions lifted out of the ever-popular zombie survival genre. Playing as the mysterious flame-haired lass Chilia who's tasked with defending an isolated South American town from a zombie horde, the aim of the game is to survive, explore and turtle up for seven days until help arrives. A slick 2D perspective and one-touch controls mean that you can designate waypoints and enemies to attack with the stylus, with Chila essentially following whatever you tap (though frequently catching on the most inconvenient of surfaces). Killing enemies rewards you with experience, health and the occasional handful of coins... none of which you'll ever get to hold on to for more than a few minutes.
Gameplay revolves around the day/night cycle, which is an incredibly important feature rather than a cosmetic touch. You're free to explore the town during the daytime and scour the place for loot, new gear, money and survivors. Zombies can be engaged at your leisure, and in an interesting twist, will tend to infect Chilia rather than killing her outright. Making it back to camp in time essentially rewards you with a free pass, but it's a mad scramble once you roam further and further away from the camp. Each day that passes increases the size of the play area; unlocking new areas, enemies and survivors along the way.
Your camp, a circular safe haven surrounded by a fragile stockade, is your one hope of staying in one piece. This safe zone acts as a shop, outfitter and even a mercenary recruitment zone while the sun's in the sky, allowing players to employ two followers and two guards to take care of business. It's also possible to upgrade and repair the camp's walls... the reasons for which soon become breathtakingly obvious.
The game ends instantly if zombies manage to breach the walls and destroy the central building, so at night, you'll need to fall back and defend it from furious respawning waves of attack. The shop and upgrade system closes during the hours of darkness, making for a tense and frequently incredibly frustrating few minutes where you can't repair the structure or purchase new ammunition. Your guards are also fairly useless, and though they earn experience that makes them tougher, they frequently ignore attacking enemies on the other side of the camp or get stuck on the main building. Luckily a selection of traps (such as mines and bear traps) let you plan for these engagements to some degree.
Experience trickles into an incredibly basic levelling system that lets you allocate points into four abilities. Combat prowess, health and luck are all equally useful (advanced players will likely decide to choose between ranged and melee attacks), but you'll scarcely notice the difference even after netting a few of them.
Interesting ideas all, but sadly, The Lost Town: The Dust doesn't provide anywhere enough depth across any of its features to be truly engaging. The RPG mechanics are practically nonexistent, your comrades are mindless servitors and action soon becomes unbelievably repetitive. The defence angle quickly grows tiresome, since the traps all function in much the same way against hordes of enemies who just want to move forward as quickly as possible. Most critically, however, days and nights don't last long enough to make the most out of exploring the area - with the incredibly short campaign (approximately two hours long) being over-compensated for by extreme difficulty. In fairness, though, it's worth noting that it's eminently replayable and costs under £5.
The Lost Town: The Dust is a visual mixed bag. The sprites, art design and colour palette are subtly stylish and impressive for an independent DSiWare release, but on the flipside, the top-down camera angle makes the game look a lot less impressive than it actually is. An isometric viewpoint would have allowed character art to resemble more than floating hairdos and rooftops.
- Fun mix of exploration and defence
- Tense survival sequences
- Deeper than a lot of 3DS games...
- ... but not deep enough to be interesting
- Difficult and frequently frustrating
- Very short
The Short Version: The Lost Town: The Dust is a short, tough and intriguing title that fans of defence games will find incredibly addictive. Playing through the campaign frequently feels like you're banging your head against a brick wall, but there's just enough variation to make it worth doing multiple times.