Big Day – Review
Big Day, developed by Sonic Shield, is a pixel art, blood-soaked, zombie apocalypse action RPG, grab your guns, gear up and get ready to plough through waves of the undead.
In Big Day, you control a man named Pancho, who appears to be based heavily on prolific actor Danny Trejo (in particular his role as Machete, the eponymous character from the film of the same name), an unexplained Zombie apocalypse has broken out, the mission provided “escape”, Pancho is told that he must get to the evacuation point, he accepts, but not without his daughter Liz, thus begins a series of very bloody battles through various areas, killing (or rekilling) countless zombies to reclaim your daughter and get out alive, that may sound like a lot to do but hey, it’s a Big Day.
Graphically, the game has a retro pixel art style that looks great, there is a ton of detail in the enemies, environments and your little one man zombie massacre, but as good as it all looks, the real standouts are the character portraits and cutscenes, the amount of effort that must have gone into these would be mindblowing, but it’s worth it, Big Day is definitely on the higher end of pixel graphic games, along with the art style are the enemy designs, you have a few types of basic zombies, which adds to the variety when you see the massive waves that throw themselves at you, and as you progress you’ll see more variations, giant biker and wrestler style zombies that take a beating (and dish them out), smaller athletic zombies, most depicted with 80’s style sweatbands to indicate how health conscious they were, this ones will also jump at you as well as moving a lot faster, sailor zombies, who are similar in size and build to the regular zombies but take more of a beating before going down, bloated zombies that explode when they get to close (or take enough damage), heavily armoured zombies that rush into you, stop for a moment and then charge at you again, and some zombies even have guns like the cops and soldiers, which spray bullets in your direction, usually moving slowly enough to dodge (a la a bullet hell game) but most of the time the spread will be too large to dodge them all (plus the amount of other chaos on the screen, the bullet damage is rather negligible in the long run compared to the damage you might take letting a swarm of zombies build up), these zombies are only the tip of the undead iceberg too, there are plenty more thrown at you as you progress.
Sound-wise, this is where some cracks start to show, the soundtrack is filled with 80’s styled synth music, which is fantastic all round, they even work in an oriental theme that leads into a synth track for the Chinese palace level, however the sound-effects are not quite as strong, the basic gun and melee attacks sound fine enough, with a nice deep sound that makes them feel more guttural, and the explosions are fine as well, but what is missing is the sound of the zombies themselves, there’s no real ambient zombie groans or death cries, and a cutscene mid-level in which Pancho and another survivor have a short melee weapons fight is oddly silent, which was the first time I really noticed the sounds were missing, up until that point, the music and the sounds you do have covered nicely enough to distract.
Gameplay in Big Day is pretty basic, but with an underlying complexity that comes from the RPG aspects, so the basics are that you control Pancho (later in the game there is another character to unlock as well), and you run around, killing (rekilling?) any zombies you find, using your two guns and melee weapon, to begin with, your primary weapon is a shotgun, as per most games, this gun is strong, lacks range and has limited ammo clips, and your secondary gun is a machine gun, which has a larger ammo clip for less reloads, longer range so you can take out enemies before they get close enough to hurt you, and it does a lot less damage, at any time you can swap between the two, but if you have exhausted a clip and swapped instead of reloading, the gun will still need to be reloaded when you swap back to it, the melee weapon can chain attacks together, never runs out of ammo or needs to be reloaded, and covers a decent spread around you, however it does less damage than one of the guns, and you need the enemies to be dangerously close, plus the swings in the combo do leave you open to retaliatory attacks.
The tactical aspects of Big Day become apparent soon after the opening stage, upon clearing your farm of zombies you will be taken to the world map, on the world map you have a camping option, this is where you access your items/equipment, check your character stats and abilities (and later on assign skill points) and sell unnecessary items (which you will need to do often as each item type has a limit of 8 pieces and drops are plentiful), also on the world map is the next story mission, a few wandering zombies and a truck which turns out to be the store (although mostly it will be used for upgrading equipment and embedding gems), the wandering zombies when touched will send Pancho to a mini stage where the only goal is to find the exit and escape, but the zombies you kill will give you money, experience and certain stronger zombies will drop new loot which at the start will be weaker than your starting guns but some pieces have abilities built in which make them more useful, especially an item with a lot of bonuses, as even if the starting bonuses aren’t particularly useful, you can reroll them in the store assuming you have the money (again if you have the money you can also choose which ones to reroll so if you have one bonus you like and 3 you don’t, then you can keep that one and reroll the others), as such the benefits of running these random levels are obvious.
Story based missions are significantly harder than the random world map encounters, as they will be a lot longer which means you’ll need to be smart about health and ammo, as you’ll need to conserve both in order to progress through the whole zone, the ammo for both primary and secondary weapons are shared, you begin with a stock of 100 and every reload of your weapons will drain a certain amount, this value will be different for the weapon, for instance the shotgun with a 2 bullet clip takes 2 from your reserve to reload, whereas the machine gun with 25 bullets in the clip takes 20 from your reserve to reload, now you may notice that the second value doesn’t match up, 20 reserve bullets to reload a 25 clip, this is something you need to take into account with the guns you select, some will take less and others more and thanks to some weapons bonuses these values could be drastically different, and as the reserves are shared sometimes it’s best to use a lower draining weapon just to conserve ammo until you find a drop, as you play through the levels, you will find sometimes placed, and most of the time from defeated enemies, health pots, medipacks, ammo clips and ammo boxes, all of these can be picked up when you are at max bullets/reserves/health and they don’t have a timer so if your resources are looking ok it can be a good idea to leave the pickups in case you need to backtrack and pick them up later.
Staying in levels for too long can also be an issue, with later levels spawning a seemingly endless parade of the undead, which can overwhelm you if you’re not careful, these situations the melee weapon comes in handy as it gives you a little pushback to your enemies while it launches Pancho forward in the direction he is attacking, sometimes it’s best to use this to open a path and then use Pancho’s tactical roll to open some distance so you then fire back into the horde, or into a health or ammo pack (picking up an ammo clip or box while your gun is unloaded will automatically reload it which can make a bad situation a whole lot better), the tactical roll also has a cooldown before it can be used again so it’s best to save it for when you need it (although the cooldown is only 3 seconds at the beginning, so you don’t need to be too stingy), Pancho also has another ability which gives you a short power boost, however this one has a much longer cooldown, which can be augmented with skills after you have levelled Pancho enough.
Story-wise it seems Sonic Shield are big movie fans, especially the works of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, with the aforementioned Pancho = Machete link, Tarantino’s Western admiration for Eastern culture and buckets of blood, grindhouse-style zombie schlock is the order of the day, and in keeping with grindhouse schlock, the first boss of the game is the President, who has been infected by the mysterious Snowball virus and mutated into a giant zombie, known as “Obamon” both his name and design being obvious allusions to ex-US President Barack Obama, the game is set in “New World” (America), once all zones are completed the next place is “The Kingdom” (England) followed by “La Commune” (France) a very tongue in cheek way to work in real locales without them being real locales.
Overall, Big Day is not perfect, the sound effects need work, the game has a single save file, which is also auto saved so you can’t go from the start without removing your old progress, there are translation errors, not to the extent of some games I’ve seen, but at one point a character introduces herself as Liz (not Pancho’s daughter) while under her portrait it lists her name as Linghua, the camera is a little zoomed in for some situations (it’s possible to have the screen almost completely covered with zombies), the display HUD which shows your health/bullets etc. covers the bottom of the screen which further limits your field of view from attacks from below, occasionally Chinese characters still appear on the screen in lieu of numbers or English letters, and there is a distinct lack of information provided on some things, most bonus abilities on your items are unexplained, so unless they are self-explanatory (reload time down, ammo clip increase, reload cost down etc), or an ability (i.e. Rage which powers you up for a short time after a kill etc.) you will need to experiment and/or guess, somewhat frustrating as sometimes you might throw away a good bonus because you don’t know what it does, or hold onto a useless one for the same reason, however none of these things are game breaking, the game is still well made and a lot of fun, very easy to get sucked into it due to the RPG grinding and unlimited tries to beat levels and find loot, the game is also still Early Access, so Sonic Shield have time to work out the kinks.
In coffee terms, Big Day, is a rich full blend, it takes a classic recipe, gives it a little twist using high-class ingredients and the result is a magnificent coffee full of flavours that blend excellently, made by baristas who may not have mastered their craft as of yet but show undeniable talent, simply delicious.
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