Overall Score 90%
Game review scores are always a bit of a contentious issue. Instead of awarding score for areas of the game that I like, I tend to start at 100 and then subtract points for poorly executed concepts, technical faults and unenjoyable gameplay. I think that this allows me to be fairer to games that fall into genre that I don't like very much (puzzlers) and genre that I don't play very often (shooters). I've been playing Zytron II for a good couple of hours now, and I really like what I see. I'm having a difficult time deducting any points at all.
It's a scrolling bullet hell shooter. The gameplay is immediate, fast paced and unrelenting. The presentation is contemporary and engaging, yet it's got a real retro feel that harkens back to the days of it's predecessor; Zytron on the C-64. There are no pretensions of the game trying to be anything other than a simple and fun shooter. Game elements including level layouts, enemies and bosses are presented in an abstract style and with a blast of colour that sets the game apart from it's peers.
There are various control input settings, and all bindings are customisable. The user can choose from joysticks, gamepads (with or without analogue sticks), keyboard and mouse, or even a mix of any of those to control the player ships movement and rotation and smart bomb deployment. A stream of bullets erupts from the ship at all times, so there's no need to hold down or bash away a key or button at all, and that's something that I really like too.
There's a part of me that wants to lament the lack of pickups in the game but another that tells me that the game is better kept simple and streamlined without them. It's just you and your endless jets of bullets coming from your ship and any collected drones. A smart bomb can be used to blow up all enemies on the screen. Smart bombs don't work on end of level bosses, but they do work on any missiles or other junk on the screen at the time. The game employs a energy system where the level is drained each time a player is shot or collides with an enemy or part of the scenery. If all energy is expended, the ship blows up – game over. You can restart from the beginning of the currently unlocked level. There's a pretty good tutorial and instructions included in the game, but there's not real need for them. It's just good old fashioned shooting, plain and simple. Zytron II excels at bringing that old-school, good-time feeling onto a modern platform of today's PCs.
But the core game concepts alone, as good as they are, don't make the game great. There are a host of other features that really make Zytron II shine. Stuff like drop-in-drop-out co-op multiplayer on the same PC. Then, energy sharing between team members. Just fly close to one of your partners to equalise the total amount of energy between your two ships. Great explosions and smooth animations at high framerates. Superb music and satisfying sound effects. Loads of content (32 levels in all). Levels that keep the player on their toes by scrolling in different directions and pausing for uber-battles, bossfights and meteor storms. Multiple profile support. Game tips and tricks. Achievements. Widescreen friendly. Tons of options to customise gameplay. Windowed or fullscreen rendering and very modest system requirements.
The more I play the more things I tend to find that I like about the game. For example, the way that your collected drone ships trail out behind the player ship makes for some surprisingly strategic play. They can be spread out laterally for effective cover of an area, or stacked to provide high power and concentrated fire. Even though there is only one default difficulty level, I think that this will be fine to challenge most casual players. Hardcore shooter fans can up the ante by slowing down their movement and rotation rates through the options. Players who want a really easy game can simply play with the mouse. The ship slides around effortlessly much like a mouse cursor and fire direction can be controlled with the arrow keys or WASD.
Even after you've played through all 32 levels (and I've played up to 12 so far) there is an option to replay any of them at will and challenge your high score. Each level takes about ten minutes to play, so the game is also well suited to playing for extended periods of time, or in short breaks. As I mentioned before, the levels are fairly abstract, but there is enough variety in both composition and layout to make each feel unique and fun in its own way.
This is just a classic concept that has been executed very well. There's nothing here that you haven't seen before in some way or form, yet it doesn't feel stale or dated. The presentation is second to none and the core concepts have stood the test of time. Zytron II is a lot of fun to play solo, and even better with a friend or two. It sure won't make your brain hurt, but you might get a blister on your thumbs form your dual stick pad for the first time since you last busted out Street Fighter. Sweet blaster fun – and a worthy Bytten Gold Star recipient.
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