Zero Gunner 2
Release Date: 25 January 2018
Price: $7.99 / £6.99
reviewed by Pat Lunn
I think I’m going to surprise everyone here when I say ‘man, Japan can be weird sometimes’. I couldn’t help thinking this as I dove into Zero Gunner 2, which presented me with an explanation of a completely baffling control scheme.
‘Wait Pat’, I hear you shouting at the screen, ’you haven’t eased us into the review with a nice smooth overarching opening akin to sliding into a bath filled with warm custard’ and you would be right.
However, I am giving you the experience that Zero Gunner 2 gave me, before even a single title card was shown on screen I was presented with a vast range of controls that blew my mind. That being said, I realise now that the game was right to do this.
The Transition from Dreamcast to Switch
When I was younger I used to go to an after-school gaming club, it took place in a little hall filled with retro gaming consoles, it was the first time I really got to grips with many classic Nintendo titles and it was also where I first encountered the Dreamcast. I remember being drawn in by the name; imagining the fishing boy from the opening DreamWorks title card clock off for the day and whiling the night away on Sega’s console.
I didn’t play the original Zero Gunner 2 then, but I remember thinking that the controls for a lot of the Dreamcast's games seemed a little strange compared to the PlayStation I had at home. As Sega’s last console it was an experimental platform calling many eccentric game developers. I feel that, for different reasons, the Switch has also become a beacon for the slightly psychotic side of the game development community. It seems almost natural then, for a Dreamcast game to make the jump and be re-released on the Nintendo eShop, but this also presents a big problem. Namely, that the Switch and the Dreamcast are very different machines.
So, a mechanic that would have worked well on the Dreamcast’s chunky controller, such as esoteric tank controls used to fly a helicopter, struggle on the lovely little JoyCon. This problem is made worse by the fact that those controls are integral to the way the game plays and the type of challenges the player faces.
Enemies will approach the screen from all sides and you - or you and a buddy - must face off against foes attacking from above, below and either side. This is great if you can wheel your helicopter about fast enough, but if you’re busy struggling with the controls and the ‘unique’ movement system, then you’re doomed. It’s for this reason that, out of a ranging scale of difficulty from 1 to 10, I ended up playing through the entire thing on the easiest mode and, I have to say, I loved it.
Not Quite Transformers
The basic concept for Zero Gunner 2 is simple: you are a special forces helicopter pilot who is given the choice of three different vehicles, each with unique weapons and abilities. Not being told what abilities each copter has, you will end up picking the one that looks the coolest - probably the Comanche because its blue and looks a little bit like the X-Jet from the classic X-Men animated series - then you’ll be thrown into a mission based on your choice.
You’ll streak across well-polished polygonal environments battling a range of turret-mounted enemy vehicles until you come across a mini boss, typically with an interesting mechanic. Then once that’s defeated you’ll be greeted with a short cutscene and a fight against the main boss. This is where the game really comes into its own.
The main bosses are essentially transformers; massive robots formed from one or more vehicles. However each of them are extremely well designed and immediately iconic. There was a point where I was dodging between buildings trying to fend off a giant crab robot and I had to pause the game to congratulate myself on fulfilling a childhood dream, it was just so damn cool.
Once you beat the robotic boss you will be sent to another stage at random, which can be the starter stage for one of the other vehicles, and the whole thing starts again. Complete 7 stages and you win the game. It sounds simple, but the action slowly hypes up and with only three lives getting to that final stage is tough, even on the lowest difficulty.
It never feels like a slog though, as the unique designs of the bosses and the environments keep you interested in discovering what the designers came up with next. The only problem with this is that once you’ve finished the game, there is little reason to go back through and look at those 3D models again. But that’s where the variety of difficulties and helicopters kick in, allowing you to re-experience levels with completely different abilities and weapons.
Once I overcame the tough-as-nails control system I have to say that I fell in love with Zero Gunner 2, its design, and its gameplay. Since finishing my play through I have gone back and tried several stages at harder difficulties, slowly working my way up to the 10th level which is nothing short of impossible. It reminds me of Dark Souls in a way, there is absolutely no shame in finding exploits or advantageous weapon/ability combinations as the game seems to fully expect that of you. It’s made easier with a buddy, but even with me and my girlfriend playing we struggled on any difficulty higher than 3. If you’re looking for a challenge and some beautiful boss design, then this is the game for you.
Pros & Cons
+A great range of repayable vehicles and difficulties.
+Superb boss design.
+Brilliant environmental design.
-Barrier of entry to new players.