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A Review: Zheros

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    Rating: 2.0 – Poor

    A Review: Zheros

    As a whole, the gaming industry has, on average, shifted from frustratingly difficult to reasonably casual. Industry titans like Ninja Gaiden and Megaman have traded their hellish difficulty for flash or narrative appeal, and finding challenging games or conditions is a responsibility that has more or less been given to the player. Zheros attempts to bring back the flare of classic arcade difficulty with a hybrid mix of 2D side scrolling beat em up level design and fighting controls. Everything about Zheros screams in appeal to the retro arcade gamer from the barebones plot to the simplistic game mechanics, but limited appeal in itself can become host to a multitude of issues.

    Players take control of one of two characters, Dorian or Mike, who look as if they each stepped off of a poster for an 80s action movie, as they attempt to thwart the evil Dr. Vendetta from…doing something evil. Dorian and Mike have to fight their way through a wonky biomechanical army of Dr. Vendetta’s minions across an acutely repetitive and seemingly uninspired environment. Players engage a multitude of unique enemies with different strengths and weaknesses which allow the player to tackle fights as they see fit. Both characters have light and heavy attacks as well as a gun, each mapped to a button, that can be chained into advanced combos similar to how you would develop combos in a fighting game. The problem that arises originates from this approach to combat. Enemies that spawn in groups of frequency attackers and tanky heavy-hitters don’t often offer the opportunity to execute higher level combos, if ever. While every enemy can be stun-locked if you know how to do it correctly, crowd combat rarely grants openings to inflict any significant amounts of damage. More often than not, I found myself running in circles cheesing fights just to survive against higher level enemies. Health is too scarce to risk losing in simple fights, energy, which is consumed when you use your gun (and by proxy, most upper level combos) recharges way too slowly, and checkpoints are absolutely brutal. I don’t mind when a game is difficult and I applaud games that are designed with steep learning curves, but I can’t help but get at least a little angry when I find myself running in circles for twenty minutes trying to scrimp enough resources just to get by and survive.

    When the combat’s not being poorly designed and repetitive, it can actually be deeply satisfying and a great deal of fun. The first and most common opponent you encounter, the Screenman, provides an excellent opportunity to get a feel for the game’s physics, mechanics, and controls. Having both a predictable melee and ranged attack that’s well telegraphed, players can practice evading, reflecting, and parrying; three skills which are vital to surviving the second half of the game. The frequency of unavoidable off screen attacks can be a bit unfair at times, and I did encounter a bug where the visual and audio queue between an enemy firing a gun were way off, but until you start to come across the unreasonably difficult encounters, the combat can be pretty relaxing.

    Individual character "leveling," if you can call it that, is handled in an abhorrently blunt fashion. Players collect a resource similar to standard points which are then, at the end of the level, converted into RP for the player to spend on upgrades. The problem is, each stage has a maximum of two possible RP that can be earned, they must be earned by threshold scoring, and for some reason, reflecting bullets for kills, a generally high skill maneuver, rewards players with less points than a regular kill. You can replay levels multiple times in order to gain the maximum amount of RP from a level, but if you move on to the second half of the game, you can’t return to the first, meaning that all of the RP that you might have missed is lost until you finish the game.

    Zheros as a whole is a big swing and a bigger miss at a terribly unique niche of gaming history. The parts done right held respectfully true to classic arcade fighting games, but everything else is seemingly a byproduct of failed modernization of an aging trend in the gaming industry. While Zheros has a few things going for it, its failure is indicative if either one of two things: the beat em up genre needs further, more modern refinements, or it needs to revert back to what it was in the past. At the very best, Zheros is a stepping stone for one of the most beloved ages in arcade gaming to make a comeback, and at the worst, another poor choice of a free Game with Gold.

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