Mar 28 AT 10:19 AM Jedediah Sweetser 28 Comments

Android game review: Samurai vs. Zombies Defense


Editor’s Note: Over the coming weeks, we will begin to feature select user-generated content in our main site feed. Everything is still in beta mode, but we wanted to experiment now. Read on for a review of Samurai vs. Zombies, and let us know how the author did!

The Basics:

Samurai vs. Zombies (SvZ) was released in March 2012 by top freemium developer, Glu Mobile. This game is a mix of tower defense and action as you get to fight the zombies with your main character, and summon units during combat to help stave off the zombie horde. You will have the ability throughout the game to upgrade your samurai, upgrade the units you can summon, upgrade some of your defenses, and buy special items to be used on each stage.


Freemium: The game is free to download, but some upgrades in game cost Glu coins which can be purchased in app. Glu coins can also be earned by downloading and running various titles advertised on the main menus, dropped in game, or by completing offers.

The Nitty Gritty:

Glu has used many iterations to monetize their freemium games, and this one is no different. One of the permissions is to ‘boot at start’ which concerned me at first. Sure enough when the game is closed or you reboot your phone, Glu’s ad engine starts up and stays running until stopped. This engine has the possibility of pushing notifications to your bar (though I did not see any in three days of playing). I personally like apps to close when I close them, so I frequently closed the ‘running’ SvZ processes after playing the game. One thing I DID enjoy about this game though, is all the advertisements are in the menu areas only, so once the stage is started you don’t have to worry about ads getting underneath your fingers.

Gameplay and Strategy:

The object is simple. Waves of zombies will enter from the right side of the screen, and you have to fight them with your character, summon minions to help you do so, and prevent them from getting to your Sacred Gate which is on the left side of the screen.

The distance between both sides of the map is pretty far, and it takes a few seconds to run all the way to the right side and back. Your samurai will run faster going towards your portal, then away. One trick to keeping enemy waves at bay is to run up to them so their attack animation starts, then run out of range and repeat.

Upgrades and Units:

Once you finish the small tutorial, you will be presented with the main upgrade menu.

The first tabs to the left represent upgrades to your character, the second one refers to units, and the third one is for consumables that can be bought with Glu coins. In the first two tabs you will be able to upgrade much of your units and characters’ abilities using just the coins you collect in each stage. At certain points even these become capped and must be upgraded with Glu coins.

Here is a breakdown of the upgrades worth getting:

  • Hero: Upgrading your hero increases your HP. This isn’t terribly important until level 20, when boss zombies can one shot kill you if you’re not careful. I upgraded this a few times throughout the game, but did not focus on it.
  • Bow: Each upgrade gives you bonus damage to your bow, and later causes arrows to explode doing area damage. When your character is not in melee range, he will automatically pull out the bow and shoot. Some later zombies are flying and can only be hit with the bow. I maxed this out first as running in and out of melee caused too many frustrating deaths for me when I mis-timed my retreat.
  • Leadership: Upgrades how fast your summoning points accrue, and the max amount you can have at once. I found early on that upgrading this is necessary to completing the game. Spend some money on Glu coins, or do what I did – browse the offers and download every 10+ coin game you can and run it once and uninstall it. A half hour of this will get you maxed leadership. I’m not even sure if the game is beatable without high leadership.
  • Sacred Gate: Upgrading this gives your Gate more HP. It starts very low and the upgrades are pretty substantial. In later levels it will be easy for ‘fast runners’ to get by you and get a few hits on the gate. Without upgrades your gate goes down fast. I upgraded this twice between levels 20 and 40.
  • Village Bowmen: I upgraded this just once for some extra damage when things were going down hill. They can’t be killed and provide a small, but constant damage stream to incoming enemies.
  • Warding Bell: I updated this a couple times. Every once in awhile the zombie horde would get near my gate and the damage isn’t terrible, but combined with village bowmen – sometimes every point of damage counts.
  • Lethargy: Now this is a staple ability. This abilities slows all enemies on the board for a certain amount of time. Upgrading it increases its duration. After a few upgrades it becomes invaluable for a ‘bow’ samurai to keep the zombie horde at bay while he plinks away at them.
  • Divine Intervention: This ability starts off at 55% chance to summon 1-3 units at random from your available roster. This will NOT summon Nabanuga or any other special characters. When it works, it can be a life saver, but it’s expensive to upgrade and at 65% switches from coins to Glu coins. I had fun with this and Panzer Samurai, but the inconsistency eventually led me to other more useful abilities.
  • Troop Trample: The creme’ de la creme ability. This monster ability summons a ‘cloud’ of damage that travels across the screen. It starts at 5000 total damage and upgrades by 1000 each time. It’s Glu coins only, and I did upgrade it once after downloading some more apps. This ability ‘eats’ zombie health as it passes by until the total damage runs out. This ability alone can take out an entire wave early on, but some later bosses will need to get hit multiple times before succumbing to its damage.


All unit upgrades increase damage and health. All units also upgrade to a certain level with coins before reverting to Glu coins for further upgrades. I started off upgrading archers and sword warriors but in the end pumped all my money into farmers. Keep reading to find out why.

There are 4 special units in the game that must be ‘found’ by collecting random presents that drop from zombies.

Each special unit upgrades it’s basic partner unit when on the battlefield. The rifleman upgrades archers, Swordsmith upgrades swordsmen, etc. The upgrade is nice, and the special units are low cost to summon, however they only upgrade when they are in certain range of their partner units, and when killed, must be resummoned. Special units cannot be upgraded.

Roster and Spells:

After upgrading your units and abilites, you will select your allies roster. These will be the only units available to you during the playing of the level. Early on I only selected Panzer Samurai and archers, as I wanted Divine Intervention to have fewer units to select from at random. Later on though, the Panzers died too fast and took too long to summon so I gave up on Divine Intervention and just used Lethargy and units I could produce fast to slow the zombie waves down.

The next screen lets you choose only two abilities to take into battle with you. From level 30 on, I used just Lethargy and later, Troop Trample. I toyed with upgraded lightning but i almost always died when trying to run close to maximize it’s damage. Another important note here is to notice the gate and the zombies in front of it. This is the array of zombies you will face, which can impact what spells you choose.

The final screen you get before you enter battle is the Charms screen. You can buy or pick up charms throughout the game and use them. Once you select one, it will be attached to your health meter to remind you which one you used, and once the level is complete or you die, it goes away and you have to get another one. I didn’t use too many of these, but the ones I used the most were Wealth and Peace. Each one is explained when you press it, so I won’t go into detail here.

HUD and Gameplay Strategies

When in game, you can see a variety of things going on, and it’s rather intuitive the way it’s set up. The skull represents the % of zombies you have killed for that level. The sword is your health bar. Coins and Glu coins are represented at the top right, and the sushi icon will automatically heal you when pressed if you have sushi in your inventory. The bottom right has your two abilities you chose before entering the level, and bottom left will display up to 5 units you have chosen for your roster along with their leadership cost. The yellow circle displays your leadership and how many points you are accumulating — the two arrows on the bar represent where you can ‘upgrade’ your leadership for that level, increasing it’s max and speed temporarily (effect ends at the end of the level). The summoned units move slowly from your gate to the right, and the zombies move slowly from the right to the left. Let the massacre begin!

In the early Levels it’s pretty easy to summon a few units, move in and out of danger and slash your way to victory. It’s important to note that coins and other loot that drops from zombies do NOT add to your totals at the end unless you COLLECT them! I died many times running into a horde to get that shiny golden box, only to be killed on my way out and lose the gift. When you finally destroy the last few zombies, your character will go into an animation but you will still be able to move him and collect coins. Run him over the loot dropped by the last zombies before the game fades to the results screen!

Zombie archers can be a problem, pelting your front units from behind zombie lines — melting them with ease. To combat this you need lots of units crowding the front. Or build up your samurai’s melee abilitys, run through the front line and cut the archers down yourself. Later on, enemy healers and buffers will do the same thing, increasing the HP and strength of the zombies in range, and healing them. Run through and cut them down, or do what I did, and just overwhelm the front line with damage. Using lethargy not only slows down the walking speed, but also the animation speeds too, thus reducing the speed at which the healers can heal — and giving you an opportunity to finish off a tough foe if used correctly.

Flying units aren’t too much of a problem, but it is important to note that your samurai will focus flyers over melee zombies when they are present. If you upgraded your bow, these guys won’t be an issue.

Level 30 is when this game starts to show it’s difficulty. You’ll get plenty of waves, with boss zombies (sometimes 3-5 of them) in front, and mass archers, healers, and buffers in back. I used Divine Intervention and Panzer Zombies to keep the front lines stable, and mass produced archers to get through these levels.

Around this time you will begin getting the ‘bomb’ zombies. These guys move very fast and will hit your Sacred Gate before you know it, blowing it up. Lethargy, and other ways to slow them (as well as lots of running back as fast as you can to catch them) are in order to save your Gate from crashing down.

Even at max leadership, it becomes difficult to produce large numbers of tougher units like Panzers and Frostie Bowmen for levels 40-50. Especially when the boss zombies one shot kill them. So I started thinking outside the box, and decided that mass producing was better than producing smaller numbers of heavier units. I went with Farmer spam! I could produce a new farmer every 3 seconds, and keep the front lines of the zombies pretty tied up while I waited for my Troop Trample to come off cooldown. For levels 40-50 I simply produced farmers all the time, and relied on my upgraded bow to blow down groups of enemies and let Troop Trample finish them off. It’s not pretty, but it worked.

Samurai vs. Zombies Defense8 / 10

Overall SvZ is a highly enjoyable game, and the monetization isn’t the worste I’ve encountered in some freemium apps. It’s worth the download and 4-5 hours of fun. I give it 8/10 simply because at level 50, I had only half my stuff upgraded, and the game just starts over. Adding more levels to try other strategies would give it a score of 9. It will always lose 1 point for running in the background when the game is closed.


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  • spazby

    great review, thanks – downloading now

  • jaxidian

    “One of the permissions is to ‘boot at start’ which concerned me at first. Sure enough when the game is closed or you reboot your phone, Glu’s ad engine starts up and stays running until stopped.”

    This is enough to keep me from playing this.

    I’m fine with the “freemium” concept but keep your ads in the game and off of the rest of my phone. This is definitely crossing the line.

    • alxrock

      Pretty cool game, but that’s exactly what made me uninstall.

      • Taylor Wimberly

        It is annoying but not as bad as it sounds. I beat the game in a couple days, and didn’t see any push ads until after I completed it. Then I uninstalled it :)

        • alxrock

          I just opted to play it on my iPad instead. Although, I have to deal with it crashing pretty often. I can’t wait to get an Android tablet to replace it (hopefully the Nexus tablet comes soon).

    • cthonctic

      Has anyone tried to remove that permission with Permission Denied ( or similar and see if the game still works?
      The game looks very nice but I don’t want rabid services running in the background all the time.

  • Alan Reboli

    Needs a tl;dr section. Out of a game review I want basics. This seems like its a partial walkthough.

    • megabarstool

      this. it was tmi overload.

    • i’m really not a

      woah – too much detailed game info.

      does it look good?
      move well?
      do the touch controls work well?
      smooth on a range of phones if possible?
      does it load fast and save checkpoints regular for quick pickup play?
      do you want to play it everytime you have 5 minutes of downtime sitting on the kazI?
      openfeint or some kind of score comparison?

      that’s all i need for a phone game review.

    • jsweetser2

      I agree, and there are plenty of short reviews for apps, i want to try and fill the gap with some in depth stuff of great apps.

      You’re right though, not knowing this ahead of time can give this review a wall-o-text feel. Sorry about that.

      • Alan Reboli

        No hate intended :) Just a suggestion.

        • Jedediah Sweetser

          I appreciate it. I live games and I love writing, and i love AndMe. I’ll be writing more and getting more efficient with each article. Thank you for the feedback, it only makes me better purveyor.

  • Darkseider

    Fun game but it has issues with levels 32 and 40 even with the latest update. For some reason it can and has locked up completely and will not start afterwards but only these two levels. The game starts and goes to loading and you hear music playing but that’s it. Hopefully Glu will figure this out because this is a fantastic game.

  • ranwanimator

    Incredibly thorough review. Well done mate! I didn’t pay close enough attention to the permissions so didn’t know it ran in the background. Shame on glu for that. Shame on me for not looking. I’ve played it a bit and it’s fun, but can get repetitive and frustrating if you are a miser like myself who does not wish to purchase freemium items.

    One other thing to note is I like to use Lethargy to run behind the enemy front line and whack at the archers with my sword. I can usually make it in and out without taking damage as their attack animations go so much slower. It’s also a good trick to use when you need to run grab a “present” from behind enemy lines.

    Nice tip on the Farmers.

  • Angela

    I was wondering if anybody else had any issues with the graphics? Sometimes it will like grey out in play areas, and leave long streaks on the screen. It happens sometimes, and most of the time it is fine. I really do like the game. It is pretty fun.

  • Probiewankenobi

    I’m on wave 47 and I haven’t upgraded my leadership level once. I’ve just gotten this far through other means.

    As for the ads and running in the background, the ads don’t display in the notification bar, ever. I haven’t had any in the almost week that I’ve had it installed. There’s also proof of that by using Lookout’s Ad Network Detector app. I don’t know why it runs in the background, but that’s, obviously, not a good thing. It just eats up memory. It doesn’t even help it start back up any faster.

    Still a great game. A very nice and accurate rating for it. Nice job. :)

  • Darryl

    nice game, the game is very smooth with my samsung galaxy note, its not the games fault, just that sometimes your phone does not support the game…

  • max

    This game is Addiction
    but i got problem the game crash after pressing start game
    should i Re-download it,what will happen with my Achieved ؟؟؟؟؟

  • Shawnty

    How you use cup of tea? I always get it but never see where i can use it?

  • QSH

    You use Cup/Pot of Tea and Sushi Plate by flicking the Sushi icon. It will let you scroll through the purchasable upgrades. This took me a while to figure out, and I found I had a ton of Tea items just hanging around. Using one of them shoots some extra points to your summoning bar, handy in some of those annoying Lantern rush levels.

  • Daniel

    What little I could play of this game was ok but wave 11 freezes, I need to hold down the middle button on my Samsung Galaxy S to show open apps, then I select the SVZ so it comes up with the pause menu, i can then exit the game without turning my phone off.

    The outcome of wave 11 is always the same, it starts out fine until the second group of enemies is largely defeated then any arrows shot will stay suspended in the air, I am unable to summon any allies, or use any special powers and the meter that counts up to allow you to summon allies stops. With no more allies allowed to be summoned and no more special powers I still manage to defeat everyone but the level does not tick over. I have downloaded the game twice and the problem is the same for both.

  • Ryan

    This game sucks constantly freezes and I have had to reset my game data because it wont even open. Nothing but a headache do not play.

  • Tisbury

    Ok here goes:

    I’ve been playing this game more than probably everyone else. I’m on level 49-8 (Passed 1-50 seven times already) and thought I would toss out some pointers for you guys.
    1) In my opinion, the bow and sword upgrades are both equally helpful, I use them both equally.
    2) In the later levels, move past the melee mobs to take out the ranged first, especially the drum guy that buffs everyone’s attacks and the healers.
    3) Assassins, Sword Warriors, Spear Warriors, Bowmen and Spear Horsemen are worthless, Priest becomes pretty much worthless at the end also, everything simply hits too hard.
    4) Play Plachinko, trust me. In the beginning it will provide you with the coins to upgrade, and the cards to win. I have played over 20,000 Plachinko balls and have never won any Glu credits, or revives, but I currently have over 10 of each card, some are 30 which might be the max, never seen more than 30.
    5) There are two ways I have beaten the end levels easily.
    a) Frostie + Rifleman + Nobunaga + Takeda Shingen + Panzer
    b) Frostie + Farmer + Swordsmith + Nobunaga + Panzer
    Takeda is great damage, but dies quickly, nobunaga is a great tank if upgraded enough, but still doesn’t survive long. The best way to win, but also the most time consuming and stressful, is Farmer spam. You generate enough loyalty (I think that is what it is called) to click a new farmer every time it’s up, and with a haste card they’re always there, always holding mobs off your ranged.
    6) Spells – Always use Lethargy and Troop Trample, everything else is pointless. Divine Intervention is fun, but they always toss in a couple mobs that cost the least amount, usually farmers or frosties. If you have Panzers loaded, sometimes you’ll get those, which is a nice bonus.

    Currently here is what I have in my inventory:
    Sword: Level 50
    Bow: Level 60
    Hero: Level 26
    Power Charm: 15 (I use these in the late 30s, early 40s)
    Lucky Charm: 12 (I use these in the early 30s)
    Friendship Warrior: 6 (I use all three friendship charms in the 40s)
    Friendship Panzer: 14
    Friendship Spearman: 7 (These guys are great for levels with a ton of those stupid purple things)
    Wealth: 19 (I use these in the 30s)
    Haste: 30 (I use these in the mid 30s with farmer spam)
    Peace: 9 (I rarely use these, but they’re not bad if you’re having a tough time on a level)

    • hadi

      how much glu coins u buy to reach this stage? im currently on 50-6 and cant progress more!

  • Mathis

    i am at 38 haven’t upgraded leadership but now i stuck ik how to beat it just need like 1 or 2 revives and some tea and sushi plat :P

  • Catzelushu

    Hi! I have a problem: it appears glu logo and than exit . Help me please,thx a lot!

  • alonso

    For some reason, at level 40 i keep dying randomly. The percentage under the skull at the top of the screen keeps increasing, even when im holding the zombies back, and i check the gate to make sure no small guys slipped passed. Any thoughts? Thanks. Awesome game by the way…

  • browly

    guys i was playing for 2 hours this game and then suddenly the game crash and i coudln’t open it again was stucking in the opening ..i re download it x4 time and still the same thing.. any help? sry for bad english