Developer: Zombie Dynamics
Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Release Date: 10 May 2015
Price: $14.99 / £13.49
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Garage: Bad Trip - to give it its full title - is a stylized top-down shooter made to look like an 80’s B-horror film. You take on hordes of zombies as you attempt to uncover how and where the undead came from, all while trying to stay alive. The visuals immediately drew me in, but unfortunately it was only downhill from there.
Locked In, And Nowhere to Go
Garage has you play as an ex-drug dealer named Butch. One day Butch wakes up from the trunk of a car in an underground garage, which has many secrets hidden within. It’s up to Butch to uncover these secrets and learn about the zombie apocalypse he finds himself enduring.
There are thirteen chapters to Butch's tale, though I actually wasn’t able to play chapter ten, with a mysterious letter from the developers stating the chapter was “irretrievably lost”. I didn’t know if this was part of the lore of Garage, but it certainly seemed like an odd design decision if it was meant to be this way.
The plot takes the form your typical straightforward mystery about a secret organization doing things they shouldn’t, and the narrative is told through in-game text dialogue boxes. There isn’t any voice acting illuminating the story, but you do get some background information by finding items throughout the adventure, such as old documents and video clips. It’s not the most original tale, and not really the best way to present the narrative either, but there were parts that reminded me of Hotline Miami from a presentation standpoint which stood out in all the right ways.
Kicking the right boxes
Fortunately, the gameplay is better than the story elements, but still leaves a lot to be desired. Garage is presented in a top-down viewpoint and you control the character’s movement with the left stick, while aiming with the right one - much like a twin-stick shooter.
You are able to pull up a weapon wheel that let’s you quickly swap between weapons when the enemy horde grows larger. As for attacking, you can punch and kick with the two trigger buttons, while one of the shoulder buttons lets you roll to evade attacks.
The controls are simple, but executed somewhat poorly. The hit box for enemies feels almost broken, due to the countless times it appeared I was hitting zombies, but not registering effectively. Many of my deaths were caused by my character completely missing despite me spamming the kick button. It’s really frustrating dying not from a lack of skill, but from bad game design.
Enemies would occasionally just disappear too, and it seemed like there's just not enough polish or bug optimization been applied. Sometimes those disappearing enemies would reappear right in front of my character, which was spectacularly frustrating. Boss designs were fine, but the aforementioned gameplay issues made trying to take them down one hell of a chore.
Taking Out the Zombie Trash
There are some positives to the gameplay though, with change-of-pace segments which mixed up how you proceed. For example, while Garage is primarily a top-down shooter, one section sees you drive a motorcycle, switching the gameplay from a shooter to a fairly adequate racer.
The variety is welcome, but it didn’t fix the frequent gameplay issues elsewhere during the play-through. For replay value, you can find more secret rooms that unveil more parts of the story. However, as I never found the story very compelling, I didn’t feel motivated to find all of the secrets.
Visually, Garage has a horror vibe to it, under what seems like an 80’s filter to give off the appearance of watching an old VHS film. It also has an old-school 3D effect filter that gives it blue and red scan lines over the final picture. It's an interesting look, that goes well with the zombie slaying gameplay, and while I did enjoy the art style, some of the presentation could have used more work.
One Bad Trip Down Memory Lane
First off, there were some lengthy load times when first starting up the game, and then when loading from a save file. Sometimes items I needed to pick up wouldn’t render for short periods of time and this meant that rooms which appeared to be empty actually had items I needed to collect. This was just one of the many rendering issued I found throughout my play-through with some items not even registering until I was right on top of them.
While playing in docked mode, Garage did look good on a larger display. The stylized visuals were eye-popping and the retro flare really brought out some of the great artwork. In portable mode though, I couldn’t tell if it was the resolution or the heavy use of filters, but it didn’t look nearly as sharp on the small screen.
The audio design did feel somewhat lazy in execution, with the grunts taking precedence over the music and just ultimately weren’t done very well. Butch’s grunts change after every two attacks and it sounds rough to say the least. I had to lower the general audio and raise the music audio just to make the annoying sound effects go away. They were loud and abruptive, and will make playing Garage in public an awkward affair. Fortunately, the music is a lot better and has an ominous tone that meshes well the the visuals.
Overall, Garage: Bad Trip is just that, a bad trip. I had high expectations for this game, but the negatives definitely outweighed the positives. It unfortunately feels like a rushed and lazily put together title. The visual presentation is nice, with an adequate story, but the gameplay coupled with bad sound effects made it feel incomplete. There are many more great top-down twin stick shooters, and many more horror titles, on the Switch that should have your attention.
Pros & Cons
+ Original and retro art design
+ Plenty of secrets and lore items to flesh out the story
- Poor hit detection
- Imprecise controls
- Bad sound effects
- Long load times and optimization issues