Ah, yes. Another retro-styled, throwback beat ’em-up game.
With ZHEROS, developer Rimlight Studios has promised gamers an excursion into the classic gameplay of old. In their own words, they “aim to bring back the old style beat’em-up feeling.” Have they succeeded? I guess so. Is that a good thing? No, not really.
While ZHEROS does do a serviceable job of nodding to what I guess is “old-school” beat ’em-up gameplay, that’s about all it does. It seems like the developers had no ambitions for the game other than to… just sort of make a beat ’em up-game, I guess.
There’s two characters you can play as in the game: big, buff, Mr. Pixar man and skinny Mrs. Pixar woman. I made those names up for three reasons: because there is no spoken dialog in the game, because the art style is a pretty generic pass at Pixar’s entire filmography (mostly The Incredibles), and because I am a poor researcher. You can play as either character in the solo campaign, or you and a friend can play as both in the co-op mode. The story concerns Mr. and Mrs. Pixar trying to stop a mad scientist from conquering a couple of planets, or something. It’s pretty basic.
“Basic” describes ZHEROS‘ gameplay, too, and both of the main characters are virtually identical in terms of how they play. You’re able to perform light attacks and heavy attacks, and you can chain these attacks together to form stereotypical combos.
For starters, pressing the light attack button a bunch of times executes a basic “jab” combo, and this is what you’ll spend almost the entire game doing. You can also chain together a specific sequence of light and heavy attacks to do an area of effect attack, or fire a gun that can be used to shoot enemies that are far away, which is mostly pointless. On top of that, the protagonists can launch enemies into the air and juggle them for a second, Devil May Cry style. Plus, there’s occasionally a robot to drive around and fight with.
The evasive mechanics include a roll/dodge button and a shield. Rolling out of the way of an oncoming attack just before it hits you grants you an “evade” bonus, which you can capitalize on with a couple of contextual special attacks. On the other hand, using the shield consumes a resource that is shared with your gun. However, if you time your shield correctly, you can reflect attacks and bullets back at enemies, opening them up for combos or damaging them. This is a feature I actually had some fun with when I got the hang of it, though it’s too bad they didn’t expand further upon the concept.
The level design is basic, too. Just when you think you might be through running down unchanging corridors and button-mashing hordes of boring enemies, oh Hell, it’s another corridor. That said, they sometimes spice things up by sending you down a mostly-empty hallway that lies along the z-axis, rather than the fairly 2D affair that most of the rooms represent. I know, my heart is racing too.
Occasionally, there are even moments of decent platforming. Jumping challenges, stuff like that. For each one of these there are approximately two or three moments of weird, disproportionately difficult puzzles that don’t feel like they were play tested. There’s actually one scene where you must defeat three robots who can only be killed by reflecting their own bullets with the shield. However, all three of the robots are firing asynchronously, leaving you to basically guess when a bullet is coming. Expect a lot of frustrating moments like this. Other than these moments, though, ZHEROS is really, really easy.
The co-op mode offers the incredibly rare appearance of actual fun. This isn’t on purpose, it’s more like a happy accident. The co-op mode does not change any element of the game. There’s just more enemies and more health power-ups. Otherwise, it’s just like playing the same game but now with two people running down corridors and pressing the X button. The best part is that the difficulty for co-op mode actually feels somewhat suitable, as my roommate and I actually died a few times. On the downside, the ZHEROS dev team was able to claim another soul for the blood gods of mediocrity which they clearly serve, and for that I am sorry.
While I personally don’t enjoy the art direction, it is executed very well. The graphics are great, with beautiful lighting effects and a neon color palette that both stand out. The animations are also great, and the game flows very well. This is all crammed into a pretty well-programmed package, too, although there were a couple of instances where I stumbled upon some awful glitches.
As good as it looks, however, there are only two worlds to explore with a limited amount of essentially synonymous levels. Too bad all of that obvious talent couldn’t have been used to make something even mildly provocative or interesting instead of something that belongs on your little cousin’s Galaxy Tab.
If you are some kind of beat ’em-up enthusiast with a burning drive to own every beat ’em-up game in all of existence, you might consider ZHEROS. It might be serviceable for you. Otherwise, the development team’s lack of vision and innovation has left us with a dull, pointless game. Just go play Streets of Rage 3 again. I call Skate, though!
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
ZHEROS' lack of aspiration leaves us with a beat 'em-up that is both boring and replaceable.