It's fair to say that the gaming community has started to suffer a fair bit of zombie fatigue. The undead have clawed at, gnawed on, and otherwise infested multiple game genres and even established series. The classic trope still has a little life left in it, though, as long as studios put some effort into a creative twist. Ragtag Studio's Ray's the Dead appears to have that spark, and may scratch a dormant itch thanks to its inspirations.
The strategy-puzzle game, which just launched its Kickstarter effort today, readily admits it's influenced by two games that haven't seen a new installment in years: Stubbs the Zombie, and Pikmin. Stubbs is the more obvious of the two, given the zombie connection and the similarities in its playful art style. Two of the three members of Ragtag worked on Stubbs games, and they say this was their way of bringing back underutilized ideas.
The Pikmin DNA is made more clear by playing. Taking the role of Ray, you command a small army of zombies and issue commands to solve puzzles. In a short play session, I saw how the zombie tropes let Ray gain new followers to his horde by converting humans to the undead. That may sound simple, but it didn't take long to introduce new wrinkles. Guard dogs prevented me from sneaking up on humans, requiring a more stealthy approach. I could assign zombies to hide in bushes and wait for humans to get close for the kill. While the game will feature other zombie types that specialize in elements like strength or stealth, the focus is mainly on having melee focused zombies overwhelmed by long-range humans. You'll have to out-think them, not just overrun them.
Ray, a newly-minted zombie in the 1980s, is driven by a few key questions, like how he died, and why he has a giant lightbulb lodged in his noggin. It tells parallel stories that swap between Ray's "un-life" as a zombie, and flashbacks to his mortal life that shed light on the mysteries.
Ray's the Dead is aiming for $75,000. Those funds will go towards Unity licensing, a retro soundtrack, and the writing staff. It plans to release on PC, Mac, and Linux by the end of 2013.