Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
With a planet in danger as an evil tyrant invades with his army at the press of a button, a duo from the Zheros squad is dispatched to protect it. Taking out the initial invading forces in the span of time equal to that of writing a Twitter post, it doesn’t take long for even more of the invaders to be sent off in order to finish both the job and the duo that stands between liberation and subjugation.
Zheros, pronounced “zeroes” and not “Z-Heroes” like I had originally thought, is a side-scrolling brawler that was originally released on the PC and is now making its way to the console alongside it’s additional DLC. Now with an extra character and a new area to explore, the PS4 release seemed to have everything that I could have wanted in a Brawler with fast paced combat, sleek looking graphics and from could be seen from the trailer some amusing cutscenes. Unfortunately while the combat system itself is stellar the rest of the package is kind of lacking.
Other than the introductory video which has a bit of humor thrown in with the Evil Tyrant grunting and growling as he goes from “Launch Army” to “Launch MORE Army” buttons on his console, that’s about it. Most of the humor that I had been expecting in the form of cutscenes or stage transitions, banter between the two main characters with maybe some new material in case they decided to incorporate the newest addition, isn’t there. The introductory trailer to Zheros had some comedy thrown in and I had expected it to carry over to the rest but honestly other than the opening video? There’s nothing more than stage selecting and some good old fashioned beat ’em up.
Zheros combat was well thought out. Each character has access to both light and heavy punches, blocking, dodging and a ranged weapon in order to shoot the hell out of anything that unfortunately finds itself in the line of fire. Because of how powerful the ranged weapon can be, it is attached to an energy bar that depletes itself fairly quickly. While the tendency could be to fully empty it for maximum carnage, without energy you can’t block with your energy shield so a bit of foresight is required. Would it have been better to have them separate? Probably but it would have made it easier which would have been a good thing in certain cases.
Anyone who plays action, adventure, RPGs, shooters, brawlers or beat ’em ups, games in general, know that difficulty raises as the adventure unfolds in order to keep you on your toes instead of bored in the back corner simply clicking a button or two in order to move forward. This makes sense and we expect it. What we don’t expect is to come up against foes that simply break you from simply having walked into the room with no room for negotiations.
The standard enemies that you’ll come up against are “fair”. There’s a way around them. Standard robots will shoot at you or come up close in order to try and finish the job in which both of these style of attacks can be countered. Timing your shield activation just right will reflect a shot back at the enemy for a fair amount of damage while timing the activation on a melee attack will stagger them backwards. Enemies that launch bombs at you can be kicked away while others that use their crafts as a buzzsaw can be blocked and staggered as it falls into melee attacks. This is “fair”. What isn’t “fair” are the larger enemies that simply get to do as they please and these tenants of combat don’t apply as you can only hope that you dodge at the right time and maybe get a hit in before being thrown into the wall for the fiftieth time.
These enemies are big, they are bad, and they are unfair. Attack pigs with wheeled back legs, giant space cows with acid throwing udders and bullrush attacks and the first final boss alone are enough to cause night terrors in trying to figure out how to take them out. Generally by the time that you’ve dodged they are already on you and good luck really getting a hit in. It gets worse if you dodged within their line as it’ll still count as you evaded but you’ll still be hitting the wall. Blocking does nothing against them either and unfortunately the checkpoints are generally never close to these points and the mechs you can have access to? They only appear twice in the first chapter and are never there when you would need them the most.
When mechs are around however? It’s Christmas.
Mechs are big, they are bad, and they are unfair. For your enemies. These hulking mass of steel and lock-on rockets are freaking awesome and space cows don’t stand a chance. Running on batteries however these do run out but for the power output that they provide it only makes sense. Punching enemies is a good way to go about things but with how useful launching rockets can be it may become the tendency. The issues with launching rockets however is that it drains the battery much quicker and until you’ve beaten the stage once it’s hard to gauge how much or how little battery usage should be used. In either case, these were some of the best parts of Zheros.
Speaking on the stages, they are a bit copy and paste of the hallways. The scenery changes but you’ll generally be moving left, right, up or down, through the same looking hallways for most of each level in a chapter. What I appreciated though was that the end of one stage was the start of the next. What I didn’t appreciate was that if you’ve quit or if the game crashed, you have to start back off at the first stage in the set. When the game crashed during the the boss of the first chapter… I was not happy. At first I thought that this may have simply been a bug with the newest character but after taking one of the originals for a spin on several stages, quitting, and relaunching Zheros, you have to sequentially go back through the set to get to where you were.
Zheros had a lot of great ideas. Combat on top of being smooth is also a test of skill to see how many points can be amassed in a stage. Other than for simple bragging rights, each stage has two markers that if a player’s score hits them, they gain an RP which can then be used to learn skills. Melee, Defense and Ranged can all be upgraded with ever increasing RP costs but they are worth it. Melee upgrades grant access to new combo sets and abilities making hitting the point markers that much easier. The first few levels you may only be getting one or one depending but once the combos are unlocked it became rare to not get both on the same try.
I feel like I have a love and hate relationship with Zheros. On one hand, I loved it. The combat was fun. The upgrade system required you to work for it. The graphics were smooth and nice to look at. On the other hand, combat was infuriating when the pigs or the cows rolled in and even if the backdrops would change in the levels, the ground takes up so much space that it’s what you’re generally going to be looking at and it barely changes. Finally, not being able to go back to a stage after quitting or having the game crash was unfortunate as the first levels could take anywhere from seven to ten minutes. Game crashed… on the last level you say? That’s two hours in order to get back to the final boss.