Initially released on PC and Xbox One in 2016, Rimlight’s cartoony side scrolling beat ‘em up Zheros has finally made its way to the PS4 along with the game’s new DLC pack – The Forgotten Land (which you have to buy separately).
Zheros is a basic brawler, full of colourful characters, with a simple plot straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Plucky spandex clad heroes Mike and Dorian are tasked with stopping the maniacal Dr Vendetta from conquering a far, far away galaxy with an expanding army of homicidal robots and other assorted evil minions.
Keeping with genre conventions, each character handles slightly differently Mike is brutish, heavy, and likes to use his fists while Dorian is nimble, acrobatic and using kick based combos. Though you can play through Zeroes 18 levels with either character, annoyingly you cannot swap between them in between stages. Though both are perfectly capable. I found Dorian’s hi-kicking hijinks to be a bit more fun and pleasing on the eye.
Zheros aesthetics are bright, colourful and surprisingly detailed, with both protagonists and the varied hordes of enemies players face throughout the game’s 7-8 hour run time are well designed and animated. Likewise, each of the game’s environments are distinct and colourful, if a little by the numbers – taking players to genre staples such as robot factories, bamboo forests and volcanic caverns each replete with their own set of hazards for players to avoid from laser grids to sheets of flame.
However, despite each new area introducing plenty of new minions to twat, the abundance of rank and file robots and minions that make up many of the Zheros’ encounters can make combat feel repetitive at times. Which is a shame because combat is surprisingly deep. There’s a wealth of combos and attacks to utilise as players progress through the game with effective use running attacks, shields and gunfire can further extend combos (and the rewards they bring) while a well-timed block can parry enemy attacks leaving them open to punishment. However, this myriad of options is completely wasted as there’s no need to use any of it and the game does not encourage you to change up your attack patterns either. Every enemy you face can be pummelled into the ground by hammering the basic attack button until they snuff it, and if the player moves onto the next minion quick enough it won’t even effect their combo.
There’s an upgrade system that allows you to upgrade your shield, gun. But apart from improving the effectiveness of blocking, parrying and attacks it feels somewhat toothless and arbitrary, as the game’s deeper systems that are also unlocked via these upgrades never feel useful enough for players to need to bother mastering them.
Zheros also suffers from occasional difficulty spikes and sporadic Checkpointing. Though plentiful Health pick-ups does elevate these problems to a certain extent, they don’t help with the games fiddly platforming sections and being knocked off the side of a platform by larger enemies.
Once you’ve battled through the game you can always tackle hard mode. There’s also collectibles to find in each level. Stages get progressively longer as the game progresses with quieter moments becoming few and far between as the game reaches its conclusion and increasingly aggressive mobs happily sucker punching players off platforms into the abyss at every available opportunity it can feel like a grind.
This isn’t helped by long load times and odd framerate hitches when action gets particularly hectic. During the Forgotten Land DLC I also encountered a a myriad of graphical issues and occasional crashes.
The Forgotten Land DLC is basically more of the same. Introducing an extra playable character and 8 eastern themed levels to fight through, extending the titles life by another four hours.
Overall, Zheros fails to live up to the potential presented by its deep combat mechanics and punchy cartoon artstyle by repetitive encounters, problematic platforming and numerous technical issues.