ZHEROS Review

By Mark Delaney, 11 months ago
Recently on the TA staff message boards I had a discussion with other users regarding our different formats for reviewing games. I mentioned how I try not to let a game's selling price influence my assessment of it. I write confidently in my reviews because I feel I've been playing games for long enough (two decades) to have a good understanding of a game's positive and negative attributes. I won't bolster a bad game's score because it's cheap, nor will I knock a good game down a peg for being overpriced. Maybe I should, some argue, but I don't feel it's up to me to declare how much a game is "worth" to others who are in completely different financial situations from me. I begin with this so you may better understand the forthcoming paragraphs.

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

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.

I hope you like the scenery. You'll be seing it a lot.I hope you like the scenery. You'll be seing it a lot.

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.

Zheros plays like an old school arcade beat 'em up, and I would've paid several quarters to stop playing. Zheros plays like an old school arcade beat 'em up, and I would've paid several quarters to stop playing.

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.


Games can be frustrating and rewarding at once, there’s no doubt about that. ZHEROS just has so few redeemable qualities that it can only be seen as the former. The achievement list is, naturally, just as frustrating. Filled with plenty of difficult unlocks to acquire, several of the achievements are also currently unobtainable. If you do go for some of the Gamerscore that is available, be on the lookout for the game’s collectibles stars and bring a friend. The couch co-op is a nice addition, especially when you consider just how rare that feature is becoming year after year. Also, if you do have a shoulder-to-shoulder partner with whom to play, the game becomes easier, making some of the many issues less striking. However, there’s still too much that feels broken, unfair, or worst of all, boring.

Summary

ZHEROS was built as a homage to the arcade cabinets from 25 years ago. You can see those inspirations throughout the game but for all of the wrong reasons. The repetitiveness of levels and enemy encounters, the barebones story, and the constantly frustrating fighting mechanics – the game’s main draw – are all a reminder of how far gaming has come. Rather than build on a foundation set by juggernaut titles like The Simpsons and X-Men, ZHEROS copies their blueprints exactly as they were. What could have been a passing of the torch to a revamped beat 'em up was instead a copy and paste of those retro games, which themselves haven't aged well but are still admired for their place in gaming history. ZHEROS is a 2016 title that too closely adheres to 1990 game design, and doesn't even do some things as well as its quarter-century old predecessors. Despite earning few of the 20 achievements, the game’s unreliable and uninspiring gameplay won’t compel me to ever click on the game tile again aside from when I take steps to delete it from my hard drive.
1 / 5
Positives
  • One more on the short list of couch co-op games
Negatives
  • Repetitive
  • Platforming sections are untrustworthy
  • Fighting mechanics are deeply flawed
  • Checkpoints are few and far between
  • Broken achievements
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent six hours with ZHEROS, the final five of which were done out of responsibility to this review. He earned four of 20 achievements for a total of 120G. A copy of this game was provided by Rimlight Studios for this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a lifelong gamer and current Assistant (to the) News Manager on TA. When not playing games, he can be found cheering for a bad football team, playing Batman action figures with his son, or going to concerts with his lover. Days where he does all of those things are his favorite.