Ed-O: Zombie Uprising invokes memories of a better time. No, not the Edo-era of Feudal Japan from which the game gets its stylised name but rather the seventh generation of home video game consoles which included the Wii, the PS3 and most notably for us, the Xbox 360.
The 360-era was a joyous time where people actually filled up the party chats and spoke to each other, where we all got together over games of GRAW or Rainbow Six: Vegas, where some of us got addicted to achievements and where an endless stream of brilliant double-A titles would come and go.
Be it the brilliant Earth Defense Force games, hidden gems like Blood on the Sand or criminally underrated titles like Mindjack, there was a real feeling of diversity to the full-retail release schedules and, in many ways, Ed-O would have been right at home there.
The game, developed by Lancarse, is a third-person hack and slasher with a strong rogue-lite structure and from its under-developed visuals and clunky controls, it certainly feels like a 360 title (in fact the overall feeling is closer to the PS1 classic Tenchu) and it’s a game that doesn’t exactly wow you when you first play it.
You play as a Samurai (at least initially, later on you’ll unlock a sumo wrestler and then a ninja) and right away you are dropped into a tutorial level which explains the basics of combat, gives you a taste of the game’s rather thin stealth mechanics and exposes you to the complexities of Ed-O’s inventory system.
It actually feels a bit overwhelming for several reasons though. While the combat is fine and uses a Souls-esque R1/R2 system for light and heavy strikes, it’s everything else that can initially seem a bit much. From charms, equippable items that give you buffs and de-buffs, items that can be eaten, thrown or used as traps and a series of ‘secret arts’ that are special moves, there’s a lot to take in in a short time.
What’s worse is that you will die on the eighth, and final, stage of the tutorial and at one point you end up on fire, and see your health dwindle away alarmingly. But after all of that you’re thrown into the main game and you’ll find yourself in a village with even more stuff to consider from a tree that unlocks perks, a dojo that unlocks even more, a shop, a library archive and a hut where you pick your next mission. It’s definitely all a bit much.
However, when you get into your first proper mission, you’ll start to understand what Ed-0 is doing. Each mission is set across a number of stages/floors and you’ve got to get through each one and leave via one of three exits, depending on what your next requirement is. The exits can take you to health recovery, food, items, charms or secret arts. But before you worry about all that, you’ll need to fight through the bastard undead.
Combat is actually pretty good. Your light attacks combo nicely while your heavy attack needs to be charged up but will do massive damage. The zombies are mostly the old-school shuffly sort, so the early risk is that they’ll overwhelm you so you’ll need to be cautious with your attacks and use your dodge roll to get out of trouble.
The Secret Arts also vary in usefulness but if you get a good one, you’ll have a move that will slice through multiple enemies like a knife through hot zombie butter. And the items you’ll find are also a mixed bag although certain explosive items and other throwables can be very useful.
There’s a lot of inventory management involved because you’ll occasionally find a trader who will buy your unwanted tat and so selling him charms and other items can be very lucrative. You spend the cash (if you can safely get it out of the level without dying) at the Dojo where you can buy some nice stat upgrades, so often you might find yourself hanging onto otherwise useless items or balancing offence items against food ones depending on what’s important.
When you reach the final stage of the mission, you’ll face off against a boss. These are usually hard to hit, devastatingly powerful and generally a bad time. This is the Souls-influence at work again. But if you can beat them, you’ll have a lot of money to spend before your next mission. And that whole basic game loop is kind of awesome. This is what gave us that hidden gem feeling and made us really warm to the game initially, at least after that rather unappealing start.
However, Ed-O isn’t without its problems. While the game is tough at first, and stays tough even when you’ve fully upgraded your damage and defence stats, it has a real way of smacking you down and this is evident on the game’s third main mission.
This mission increases the stage count from ten to fifteen, which is a serious investment of time, and then it introduces you to a boss called the Steam-Powered Giant. This guy is a nightmare. He can only really be hurt via the weak spot on his back or his head but he’s a giant, so hitting those areas with your sword is difficult. He’s prone to shooting out massive shockwaves, he can jump at you from the other side of the level and, for extra fun, he summons zombies to come and mess with you.
The first time you meet him, he’ll likely send you back to home base with a fraction of the money you collected and the frustration of meeting a very hard-to-read boss after over an hour’s effort. Even when you do start learning his attacks, there’s a good chance you’ll starve to death before you ever kill him. This lead to me asking for some tips online and eventually I got one that actually helped.
There’s a charm (Heavenly Charm) that upgrades your mid-air attacks but constantly damages you on the ground. Now mid-air attacks are barely a thing in this game, so you’ll never use that charm, but it turns out that if you throw it at the Giant’s back, it’ll then constantly damage him. Combo that with the right combination of throwable items and you might just make it. Also, I figured out that you can back up your save just before you fight him which lets you skip the previous fourteen stages which is nice if the RNG has given you everything you need.
The game never explains this stuff. It’s a baffling escalation of difficulty combined with an entirely different set of tactics. Typical of Japanese game design in some ways but still very annoying. And, even you do beat him, the next mission (actually one of the game’s ‘short’ missions) has him as the boss again but this time you’ll have far less throwable items, so the battle is even worse.
The game isn’t done though. The next long mission sees you battling it out in an outdoor village setting which represents more badly play-tested game design. From the stages where wind and rain reduce the performance so badly, you’ll swear that someone just kicked your PS5 in the balls, to stages where enemies and items no longer show up on your mini-map (which isn’t so much a difficulty thing as much as it is just a weird denial of a decent quality-of-life feature) this whole mission is a mess. Throw in an annoying flying boss and you’ll start to question why the game hates you so much.
And yet, despite the game trying to convince you otherwise, it can be fun and seriously addictive. There is something about getting a great mix of charms, items and arts and using them to strategically defeat enemies and we couldn’t help enjoy the Tenchu-esque feel to everything.
Visually, the game is initially nothing special. In fact it looks pretty average and dated. But there is an option, the ‘EDO shader’ which gives everything a cool hand-drawn visual style. It’s not great for spotting exactly everything that’s going on but it’s such a smart look that once we discovered it, we never went back.
So overall this is a weird one for us. It’s full of horrible difficulty spikes and dumb design decisions, it has a lengthy tutorial that somehow leaves out some of the most important information, it gates its extra playable characters behind some very tough bosses and it feels, and occasionally runs, like an older console game but there’s something about the way the combat and rogue-like mechanics come together that really works.
Ultimately, that means the game falls just short of hidden gem greatness for us. If it was smoothed out, both technically and with its difficulty spikes, this could have been something special but even in this shape, there’s something genuinely compelling about Ed-O.
+ Item management leads to good strategic play
+ EDO shader is pretty cool
+ Combat can be enjoyable
- A lot of information isn't given freely
- Dated presentation