ZHEROS The Forgotten Land Gameplay
ZHEROS, at time of writing, is entirely free for Xbox LIVE Gold members. From now until mid-February, users can download the debut game from Rimlight Studios and it will cost them nothing. Sadly, those who take this step to add the game to their digital library will be harshly reminded that nothing in this world is truly free. ZHEROS will rob you of time that you can never reclaim.
ZHEROS is a beat ‘em up in the vein of classic arcade games like X-Men, The Simpsons, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These are reference points for genre, not quality. After a cartoonish opening cutscene that introduces the villain of the game, players control one of two protagonists, Mike or Dorian. Mike is a blonde-haired brute with a body like an angry Bruce Banner. Dorian is a nimbler, more choreographed assailant who dispatches enemies with a touch of grace. Neither character has a personality beyond the ones that we can assume from their fighting styles, nor do they or anyone in the game have a voice beyond grunts.
Right away the game echoes memories of the arcade cabinets of decades past. This is true for gameplay as well as difficulty. ZHEROS seemed tough at first and it was accepted that this challenge simply came with the territory. A few minutes, and then levels, into the game, however, and it was quickly realized that much of the challenge comes from poor design. Checkpoints are few and far between. Most of the 20 levels have just one, while some have none. Add this to the fact that the enemies can be extremely challenging and it becomes very easy to erase the last five or ten minutes of gameplay. When this happens repeatedly, patience wears very thin to the point where only the greatest of genre fans may feel compelled to stick it out.
Even if you are a fanboy or girl for a beat ‘em up, this one breaks a cardinal law of the game type. Attack combos are very involved, akin to a fighting game. Memorizing these is an acceptable challenge. Performing them, on the other hand, is a massive disappointment. When you initiate an attack, it may take a few seconds to complete. In the meantime, you’re left unguarded and completely vulnerable to other enemies. Since nearly every encounter features multiple enemies, targeting a single one with complex maneuvers leaves you open to attack from others.
Some brawling games deal with this by allowing those enemies to halt your attack. Others give you an active reversal feature. ZHEROS incorporates neither of these methods and, instead, lets you take sometimes crippling amounts of damage in moments where you weren’t even given an opportunity to prevent it. This often led to spamming certain quick moves. A sliding kick, for example, would let players rush in for decent damage and quickly allow them to escape the enemy horde before they were bounced around like they were in the middle of Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan’s Night at the Roxbury sandwich. When this wasn’t done, you could still survive and sometimes even thrive against the simpler of enemies, but with several more formidable enemies often coming in bunches, the frustration intensified. The upgrade system adds new moves and abilities to your character, but what’s the use if the checkpoint placement is so discouraging? Some players will not be compelled to continue trying when the game’s design is so stacked against them.
Platforming sequences are painfully unreliable, which only worsens the checkpoint flaws. Too much time was spent working through levels, barely overcoming sadistic gameplay scenarios, only to fall short of a ledge to which you very clearly should have made the jump. Carefully defeating tough enemies only to fall off a ledge and replay the whole level is never fun, and it can happen a lot in ZHEROS.
The story is non-existent. The main antagonist’s name was learned in the Xbox Game Hub, not in the game itself. Besides the opening cinematic, there’s nothing else to the story other than what’s found in the Game Hub where vague mentions of drone armies are made. Also, most levels take on one of two aesthetics. There’s a space-like laboratory for the first world and a colorful forest world for the other, but that’s it. Levels are nearly indistinguishable from each other within their worlds.