Publisher: Digital Reality / Developer: Candygun Games / Platform: PSN, XBLA

Do you like Plants Vs. Zombies, but wish it contained slightly less plants? Or wish Left 4 Dead had a more cartoony, retro Team Fortress 2 aesthetic? Then chances are Dead Block will be right up your (zombie-filled) alley. With a story that’s equal parts ’50s horror and Reefer Madness-style campy propaganda, Dead Block has the distinction of being possibly the first ever third-person tower defense survival horror scavenger hunt zombie game.

In this alternate version of the 1950s, the scourge Rock ‘N’ Roll has caused the dead to rise from their graves. However, the primary objective here isn’t actually fighting the zombies (except when it is), but rather using your tower defense-style traps and obstacles to hold them back while you search the building for three guitar components: electric guitar, amp, and cab. Once these pieces have been collected and assembled, a short rhythm mini-game is activated, your character using the guitar to dance the zombies to death.

In order to build the traps and obstacles, you need to build up a sufficient amount of resources, which you gain by searching through containers and grabbing nuts (the type used with screws, not the edible variety), and demolishing furniture and fixtures that give you wood. I’m trying really hard to not make the obvious joke here.

The game’s three stars are Mike Bacon (a Boy Scout with an insatiable hunger…for killing zombies), Jack Foster (who could be the little-known seventh member of the Village People, “The Engineer”), and Foxy Jones (a meter maid who bears a certain resemblance to Foxy Brown). Not only does each character have a unique set of weapons and traps, but they also have different areas in which they excel: Mike is the best at searching things, Jack is the best at demolishing things, and Foxy is the best at killing things.

While searching rooms, you’ll also occasionally come across upgrades for your melee and ranged weapons. For example, while Mike’s ranged attack initially is just throwing a piece of meat that will distract the zombies, eventually you gain an explosive version that essentially acts like a Left 4 Dead pipebomb. However, unlike your melee attack (which is limitless), your ranged attack is more powerful, and requires time to recharge after use.

In solo mode, the characters are chosen for you, and you’re able to switch between them to use whichever ability you need at the moment. However, multiplayer requires a little more strategy, as each player has to choose a character to remain as for the entire level. This adds a new dimension to the game, though it seems a little awkward that multiplayer supports up to four characters, but only three characters.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer is local-only, which is probably the games biggest failing. Part of the problem is that single player does a better job of introducing players to the mechanics of the game, so it almost seems necessary that people play through at least the first few levels themselves before doing multiplayer. This would’ve worked great if you and a friend had played single player and wanted to do some co-op online, but if you’ve invited someone over and want to play, it’s a little harder to just jump right into multiplayer.

What makes this particularly unfortunate is that the multiplayer levels are different from the single player levels, which would’ve added some much-needed length to the game. Instead, the solo campaign by itself seems a little on the short side, being made up of only nine levels and a tutorial.

The only other thing that really drags the game down is the tediousness of building traps. The strategy aspect of placing the traps is enjoyable, but building them involves mini-games (if you can even call them “games”) that involve quick reflexes in pressing the correct button right when you’re told. Fortunately, lower difficulty levels make these mini-games easier, but still no less tedious.

Dead Block is a fun game with an entertaining concept, but had potential to be more.