Many video game adaptations of children's TV shows have come and gone over the years, but very few stand tall with gaming's finest. Sure, there have been a few exceptions to this (SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom springs to mind), but many of these are hollow experiences that simply piggyback on the success of their source content. One of the latest children's shows to make the transition to the medium is The Last Kids on Earth, a show that follows a group of teenagers, who are left to fend for themselves within the zombie apocalypse. The first game to be based on the show is called The Staff of Doom and it couples together beat 'em up action and RPG elements, and is playable in co-op for up to four different players.
The Staff of Doom pretty much plays out like an episode of the TV series, as it features the same striking cartoonish visuals and the entire cast has reprised their roles in cutscenes.
Playing as either Jack, Quint, Dirk, or June, you must put a stop to the evil plans of a new threat known as Malondre, who intends to summon a powerful ancient beast using the titular Staff of Doom. Obviously, I wasn't able to experience much of the story within the short preview session, but I was pleased to see that many minor characters from the show made an appearance. I did find it a little disappointing, however, that voice acting is only limited to cutscenes, and it's not present when interacting with characters in its semi-open world.
During the demo, I was able to play through two different styles of gameplay: a tower defence section taking place within the group's treehouse and a semi open-world section, where I had to traverse hazards and clear out the many stumbling zombies around me. The tower defence section was a little on the simple side, but I can see it being really easy to grasp for those who have yet to experience the genre. Here you must eliminate approaching waves of zombies by laying down turrets and occasionally slipping out yourself and attacking when the approaching horde gets too close. It's nothing we haven't seen already from the genre, but it's a fun offshoot from the core beat 'em up style of gameplay.
The core beat em' up action I found to be equally as simplistic, as you simply need to whittle down the health bar of approaching zombies using throwables and a mixture of both light and heavy attacks. There are several different types of zombies here and as well as being visually different, they have their own individual attack patterns you need to be mindful of. There are larger enemies, for example, that you'll need to use charged heavy attacks to damage and there are zombies that will harm you from a distance by spitting out green goo.
As I touched upon earlier, you can play as one of four different characters from the show and these have their own sets of stats and different weapons that they are able to wield. During my brief time with the game, I was able to play as both Jack and Quint and both of these characters felt noticeably different. Quint, for example, starts off wielding a laser rifle and utilises ranged attacks, whereas Jack simply wields a pointed stick and attacks up close. I was also shown some of Jack's late-game weapons, and I found these to be awfully charming, as they are simply made from household items teenagers could throw together. These included a road sign, a giant lollipop, and a monkey cymbal toy that could explode.
After spending half-an-hour with The Staff of Doom, I can say that it seems to be faithful to the popular TV show, and its gameplay appears accessible and easy to grasp for its core demographic. Each of the four characters feel distinctive, as they have their individual stat profiles and weapons, and the many zombie foes will force you to be strategic with combat. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when The Last Kids on Earth and The Staff of Doom launches on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One on June 4, 2021.