App of the Day: Zombie Panic in Wonderland Plus

Blossom and brains.

In spring, when the cherry blossom is in bloom and the moon hangs low in the sky, you'll find me down at the old shrine, blasting everything to pieces with my flamethrower. You'll know it's me because I'll be dressed as a sexy Snow White. That's how I roll, these days. You'll also know it's me, of course, because I'll be the only person there who isn't a zombie.

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Many parts of the environment come down with their own animations.

Zombie Panic in Wonderland didn't make too much of a splash when it came out on WiiWare. That's possibly because WiiWare lightgun-styled shooters are often not quite as much fun as you expect them to be. Some of them are pretty good, granted, but too many get the sensitivity all wrong: too sluggish when moving the reticule long distances, too trembly when you're trying to keep it still.

On iOS, all of those problems go away. Move back and forth along the bottom of the screen with tilt sensors, aim and fire at oncoming hordes with your finger, and double-tap to lob a grenade. It's brilliant fun. The default gun's an SMG that goes like a drill and never needs reloading, and you have limited ammo for both a heavy weapon and a flamethrower, while a quick swipe in either direction sends you into a dodge.

The game's lovesick zombies - don't ask - look wonderfully gormless, but throughout the course of the game they steadily get more dangerous. From standard grunts to rotting sumos, and through to star-lobbing ninjas and weird specials that I am completely unable to swiftly categorise, they come at you in relentless waves. They keep you shooting, and they keep you moving. Then come the bosses.

The art's lovely 3D stuff, putting an anime spin on classic fairy tales, and the backdrops - this is my favourite part - all shudder under gunfire and eventually collapse, sometimes taking out zombies with them. It gives you an incredible feeling of power, standing there, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood in knee-high socks - and in the game! Ha! - and slowly hollowing out this storybook fantasy land, one brick at a time. Destructible environments: so simple, so effective. I will never, ever tire of this.

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The level design gets better and better as the game progresses.

Know what I will tire of, though? Microtransactions. That Plus in the title is presumably short for Plus In-App Purchases, it turns out, and Zombie Panic applies the sticky-fingered developer playbook in all the worst ways. Firstly, the game pretends to be free but then makes you pay for every stage bar the starter. That's fine, just about. Let's just call it a demo.

After that, though, you'll find you only have a couple of lives and a single continue. An extra continue costs 69p, while unlimited continues come in at 1.99. By this point, the team's getting warmed up. Unlimited ammo for special weapons, boosters to start each game with, score multipliers (this in particular is so very wrong), extra lives, extra characters: this game would sell you the pause button if it could. Actually, let's just keep that thought to ourselves in case they hear us.

If you're willing to accept that to make a game as unrelenting tough as Zombie Panic anything close to functional you're going to have to spend at least a fiver, though, there's so much to recommend here. The ironic thing is that I'd pay at least a fiver for a game this smart, atmospheric, chaotic and endearing anyway. I just want to pay it upfront, really. I just want to pay in a way that feels honest.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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