I have long been attracted to rogue-like adventures because they often give me a plentiful level of replay value or have surprising multiplayer elements. Death Road to Canada most certainly fits that mold, but still retains its originality while using a grand list of parody material that pulls from video game lore and super-hero fanaticism.
So here’s the game’s elevator pitch: Death Road to Canada follows the misadventures of a randomly-generated road trip from Florida to Ontario, Canada. The road trip is (obviously) set in a post-apocalyptic zombie hellscape where you are forced to constantly make decisions on survival. Those decisions may be to take a dope hotdog truck:
Aside from the setting, Death Road to Canada is a rogue-like. Genre fans know this means perma-death, random level/event generation, and everything in between. People’s experiences with the game will swing wildly, so perhaps the best way to give you a solid idea is to give highlights from my time working to the fear-inducing Canadian border.
Death Road to Canada thrives on both charm and character development. While the gameplay has a lot of reading for a rogue-like, there are a lot of ridiculous choices each new adventure has to offer. Hell, that includes trying to wrestle a moose for its valuable flesh, or even robbing other survivors while they sleep at night. While these choices might seem a little extreme or off the path of psychological wellness, they are pretty mild when compared to what is allowed when particular characters are tagging along for the frenzy.
The third day of my first adventure brought me to the feet of a demi-god — a female version Thor who then tagged along for the journey and ate my food in exchange for pummeling zombies with her mystical hammer. However, because of personality conflicts and frustrations through starvation and being robbed by bandits with guns, female-Thor kicked my other partner, Gertrude, out of the group. While this meant there was more food to go around in the future (two units per person consumed, per round), I didn’t have Gertrude to blindly swing that wooden hockey stick anymore.
Yeah, she wasn’t that useful as a fighter, but she was an additional meat-shield for my main character as we waddled through waves of undead. While a flying hammer was great and dandy in a fight, it became the only weapon on the battlefield after the godly warrior kicked my main character out of the party due to more continual frustration. This game then reveals that no matter who you pick to be your teammate, they are all A-holes when things don’t go their way. Even if female-Thor dies and leaves her famed hammer
The list of random characters you encounter each new game is enormous, and there are many easter eggs to be found. And that’s not to mention regular eggs which spawn a temporary fighting chicken when thrown. Besides the three different times that Valkyrie (female-Thor) destroyed my party more often than helping it, the game also introduced me to Nimbus, a play on the Final Fantasy-esque warrior also known as Cloud Strife. After having two legendary warriors simultaneously at my disposal, I was quickly able to slash and kick my way through thick waves of zombie gore.
For once, I was actually making some progress to the Canadian border. I began to let my guard down when I had learned how to make friends at pixel-apocalyptic North America while driving around in my Dumb and Dumber dog-mobile.
As I had learned from before, food is essential to maintaining a happy team, and I had to make an important decision. A moose stood in my way on the road and I had many options to choose from in this Walking Dead version of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel. Having earlier learned that humans cannot wrestle a defensive moose very successfully, I decided to let my guns do the talking.
However, guns need ammunition and I had used the last of it up when raiding that Y’all-Mart two towns back. The crafty moose didn’t like my decision of trying to murder it without bullets, so it killed my main character and my two parody heroes, leaving hockey-stick wielding Gertrude alone and crippled. She then crashed into a tree from sleep-deprivation and died promptly after. The worst part is that this event was not dialogue based. It just happened because I didn’t let her sleep the two nights before her team getting murdered by a moose. During my frenzied desperation of gathering berries during nightfall those prior evenings, I had neglected my team’s need for slumber during my inability to balance the health of my team members.
Let’s talk about the other ways Death Road to Canada can surprise us as unsuspecting gamers in its rogue-like formula. The Siege events are a necessary evil in the ingredients for this title. They are random events and give players more significant and more aggressive waves of zombies than what they are accustomed to.
Swinging your weapons can often only be futile while zombies come at you from every direction. The continual swinging of a heavier weapon burdens your character’s stamina, making each next swing slower until you rest up.
Simple physical domination on the battlefield does not always work during a Siege. Full teams of survivors are often easily overcome, so running becomes more of a conventional approach, especially when you are just farting around as a single, poor schmuck without a car. But often, a Siege on a roadway or a tunnel can reward players with a new vehicle or many units of fuel from run-down vehicles as well. Just remember to treat these events with more respect than moose-related dialogue. They sometimes leave new cars for those who are quick and vigilant.
The lesson I learned from my time with Death Road to Canada is that the stellar upbeat 8-bit techno-romp and pixelated animation mask its devious rogue-like features. Much like when playing a title such as Darkest Dungeon, one single option might have the ability to completely wipe out your whole team due to stress or just plain ignorance of the situation.
But the randomness of these decisions isn’t always laced with chaos. Most that I have come across thus far have resulted in small amounts of pain or failure just as often as they give rewards for making more brash or foolish decisions. For example, I invited an innocent old-looking man to join my crew. He was great with a machete as he was terrific at stealing every unit of food I had stocked away and running off two days after joining me.
In a series of comical dialogue options, I found the greatest pleasure in picking up a stray clown from the side of the road as my fourth partner. He would later become my favorite zombie-slaying warrior and be the first to attempt surviving the Siege event at the Canadian border. While Clown did not escape the four-hour (in-game time) slaughter, I did learn that taking a single person to the Canadian border was not wise. The other three died the previous day to bandits.
However, this could not be helped because I had been continually chipped-away at slowly as I steadily lost food and fuel supplies, health, and what had been my previous team members the day before through simple text-based decisions. With the infinite options in every new adventure, we all can eventually find success in our own ways, albeit they often are meager. This makes the title of the game, Death Road to Canada, a literal telling of what will happen to those who attempt to cross that sweet, northern border.
Death Road to Canada gave a lot of laughs as it did sighs and swears. The perma-death quality of any game often offers players such emotional variety, but this feature isn’t accessible to every player out there. I can easily forgive perma-death in a title like Death Road to Canada because it allows for a considerable level of replayable content, which is valuable to me as someone who likes to squeeze a lot of playtime out of their games.
Those who like to go solo will enjoy this title much like those who would rather join forces with a friend and hand them a controller for some co-op zombie action. Even though the game doesn’t always play nice in its rogue-like battlefield, Death Road to Canada keeps us dancing to its excellent soundtrack and fast-paced zombie action. The nostalgic animation style and modern storytelling on surviving and escaping the zombie apocalypse make this a must-have title for zombie enthusiasts and fans of rogue-like adventures.
There’s no doubt that Death Road to Canada makes for a great time, regardless of whether you find yourself in the rogue-like or zombie survival camp. While the game doesn’t do much to innovate the genre at large, it’s hard to argue with having such a good time.
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