Before I begin, I want to inform everyone that this game was given to us by the studio Loophole Interactive for review. And right off the bat, I am going to be blunt: this game is not very good. Like, at all. I’m not even sure if it falls into the so “bad it’s good category;” it’s just bad, and if I was to give this a review it would be an easy 1 out of 5, and that is being generous. But you know what, that’s too easy and also not very informative. As the game is still receiving updates, there can be improvements made so rather than brushing this off I instead want to go full QA tester on this and explain why it is bad and ways I think they could fix it. So, this is kind of a review, but kinda not. I guess you could call it an analysis, one of The King of Couch: Zoovival.
So, first some context. You can probably tell by looking but King of Couch Zoovival is a platform fighter – but I wouldn’t call it a Smash clone. It plays differently enough, but not in a way I think works. You have a choice of multiple animals (and one Raggedy Ann-looking doll for some reason), and each one plays the same. What decides the moveset is the class the player picks, which ranges from baker to cowboy to scientist. I actually like this as it lets anyone play as their favourite animal, so if you like penguins or bears then you can always play as them and still be able to change up the moveset. However, in order to do this, all the fighters are the same size and build which causes some animals to look bizarre and more like people wearing costumes. Perhaps different weighted classes might help this?
That visual issue aside, I do think the graphics are ok: a bit glitchy at times, but with detailed stages and backgrounds, even if some repeat in order to beef up the stage roster. That’s not bad though, as it allows for more stage layouts. The music is also fine. Nothing amazing, but it’s not ear grating. The game comes with local and online versus, and no story that I could see. That’s it for the good points, though. Let’s go through the bad, starting with the basics.
There are some issues where the solution is obvious, not design issues but production ones. The online sometimes lags badly, and sometimes getting into a match is hard. Better servers can improve this. There are also a number of glitches, including one where a player won’t respawn back into the stage but is still counted as in the game, which is basically an instant win for them as their final opponent has to give up or self-K.O. to end the match. There aren’t any alternate colours, and there are some clunky transitions, but this is again easy to fix, just like additional modes and characters.
But it’s time to go into the nitty-gritty of game design and figure out how to change Zoovival for the better. First up, let’s talk controls. Smash Bros. is meant to be a simple fighting game where combos are done simply by pressing one button, often in conjunction with a direction to perform attacks. This elegantly gives it simplicity and depth. Zoovival is too simple, and literally only has four things players can do. Move, attack, jump, and grapple. Move and jump act as you would think, and without them you can’t even play, obviously, although they could do with a bit more tightening as they are a little hard to control. Grapple is the most interesting addition here. It acts like the rope from the Worms games, hooking to the ceiling and allowing you to swing and zip up to quickly get around the level. It doesn’t always work as it should and needs tightening up, but it’s a cool addition. Attacks, however, are not.
Players have one attack at a time, that is it. The attacks are basically the equivalent of a special attack, like a projectile, bomb, or dash depending on the class. Now I said at a time because each class has three moves, but in order to use the other moves you have to pick up an item, and it replaces the previous attack. Essentially, each attack is an item and you can only use one at a time. This sucks. It’s not too hard to swap through items, as boxes appear frequently enough but the problem here is that this being the only method to change your attack is really bad. It’s random what will appear and by extension allows for no kind of tactics. Some attacks are also just plain awful. I really think that all the attacks should be used whenever the player wants, and items should be entirely optional. I think I know why this was done this way though, and that’s related to my next major design issue: the win conditions.
To win a game, you simply have to get rid of all your opponents lives, simple. In traditional fighting games, this means you take your opponents health down to zero. In Super Smash Bros. the health bar is replaced by a damage meter, and you KO opponents by knocking them off the level. In PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale you charge up a super meter and have to hit your opponents with a special attack. In Zoovival, you have two methods: knock the opponent off like in Smash, or hit them once. Yes, once. Characters only have one hit point and being hit by either an opponent’s attack, your own, or a stage hazard will instantly take away a life. It’s for this reason that I think they went with all characters having simply one attack.
Zoovival isn’t the only game to do this. The first game to jump to my mind is TowerFall, another platform fighter with one attack and one hit kills, but that game makes it work. TowerFall’s controls are very tight, so it feels more fair when you die by being attacked, a stage hazard or a sudden death. Characters also change attacks by picking up items, but the items don’t change things too dramatically, and every character is on an equal playing field. Every character plays the same, using a bow and arrow for an attack, and they have the same square shape, being quite small and hard to hit. This makes actually getting the hit on opponents very satisfying, and every player succeeds based on their skill. There is an ability that fires three arrows instead of one, a drill that goes through blocks and homing arrows, but they all function the same and so it all feels simple to use. There is also a risk vs reward system in TowerFall, as you have a limited amount of shots. Firing rapidly leaves you vulnerable and unable to win unless you stomp on your foe’s head, which is hard but not impossible, giving players with bad aim a chance to still win.
Zoovival does none of this. Not only do the attacks change dramatically with the power-ups, but it’s really easy to hit people because of how big the models are. There is also no ammo, which invites spamming. The chance of death is also higher because you can also fall off the level – which is easy to do with the poor controls. It also forces players to confront each other rather than tactically retreating. It’s like the developers decided that they should take Super Smash Bros and TowerFall and just slam them together, hoping and failing to make something coherent.
So how would I change this? I would simply abandon the one-hit death mechanic, or make it its own mode. A change like this fundamentally changes the core of this game, but the only other way to make this kind of system work would be to completely redo the characters and abilities to match. Either way, there needs to be a lot of changes. I would have every character start at a base and make the items change what class you are, rather than the moves. I would also remove the ability to fall off the stage and have the focus be on getting that hit instead.
If you wanted to do the abandon the one-hit mechanic, then simply give characters lives, even if it’s just three, and give players some knockback. Stage hazards in this game are bad because of janky hitboxes. You can very simply scrape one when trying to jump and just instantly die. If you have more than one life, then the hazards are more forgivable if still a problem.
Now onto the final big point I wanted to talk about: the balance of the classes is ridiculous. After trying every class out numerous times, I can safely say that you always want to play as the scientist and never the cowboy. The cowboy is so bad that it should probably just be removed and reworked entirely; almost all its attacks are un-intuitive and hard to use. You would think shooting an opponent would be fine, but the worst move in this class is the “hold-up attack.” Here when you press the attack button, it automatically puts you and the closest opponent into a quick draw event; whoever presses the button closest to the countdown wins. While a novel idea, it is awful in gameplay, incredibly jarring for both players and potentially lethal for the user. Never use this attack, and the only way I would think to change it would be by just completely overhauling the entire moveset.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the scientist, whose AoE flask bombs absolutely devastate. There is little lag on the attack, just a limit to the amount thrown, and it lingers on platforms which kills anyone who lands on it. This can kill the player as well, but unless you’re being really careless it’s easy to avoid your own attack. The rest of the scientist’s moves are pretty good as well, which puts it above and beyond the rest. I’m not sure I would change the scientist, maybe lower the amount of flasks throwable to one at a time, but I would advise to just make all the other classes better. Most are just average, like the ninja class.
I think fixing the balance though is something that can be accomplished more easily by working on the other two big points I mentioned earlier. All the major issues I had with this game are connected, each one magnifying the atrocities of the others. Many games have bad elements that don’t work, but the problem with Zoovival is in its core concept. With the game already released I’m not sure it would be possible to overhaul the whole thing, but if the game really wants to be worth playing, then steps need to be made towards improving it. If it was a standard review, I could probably only give this game a 0.5/5, but without proper critique, things will never improve, so I hope this analysis has been enlightening and I wish the developers all the best in their future endeavours.