Platform(s): PC
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Black Shell Media
Release Date: Jan. 22, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Zamarian'

by Brian Dumlao on April 1, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

The Zamarian are brutal aliens that want to destroy the human race. In this fast-paced shoot-'em-up, you must step up as Earth's final hope and save the world!

Space shooters tend to occupy two distinct viewpoints. Whether you're dealing with a bullet hell shooter or something more traditional, you're either going to be doing so from a side-scrolling viewpoint like Gradius or a top-down one like Radiant Silvergun. The domination of those two perspectives means that one of the quickest ways to get noticed by genre fans is to use a different mechanic. In the case of Zamarian, the title emulates the quasi-3D view of some classics like Tempest and Gyruss — but it's less polished.

You pilot your ship around a tube as you gun down enemies that either come from behind you or try to collide with you. Last long enough, and you eventually meet the boss, and after draining the life meter, you move on to the next stage to repeat the process. Along the way, you pick up shields and different guns for your ship; shields act as your health, which is important since you only have one life. You also pick up gems that you can use to buy shields and weapons, including a screen-clearing EMP shot, to keep you going as far as you can.

The boss fights are tough and pretty numerous, as the game seems to feature a near-endless amount of levels to conquer. The leaderboard system is sparsely populated to the point where you can get to a pretty high rank since there are fewer than 200 people on there. The tube perspective makes the game stand out since it's rather novel; shooting fans might want to give it a go just because it's something fairly new (even though this sort of thing is sporadically used every decade or so). Also, the game features cross-platform multiplayer, so you can play cooperatively with three other players either on the different PC OSes or mobile ones. You'll have to take the developer's word on that one, though, as several attempts to find a multiplayer game produced no results.

I mentioned mobile, so you might realize this is a port of what was originally a mobile game. While that's fine, it doesn't help that the game fails to make use of the new platform it's on. For example, shooting is automatic, so you'll always throw out a constant stream of bullets. Your mouse movements determine the direction the ship travels as well as how far it goes down the invisible tube. Without a slider to modify sensitivity, though, controlling the ship can be a challenge since gamepad controls don't exist. The dependence on the mouse to control everything means that activating weapons and shield replenishment or even pausing the game must be done by pointing and clicking the element on-screen — something that can put you in harm's way. A patch recently added keyboard hotkeys for these things, but unless you took the time to memorize the controls before starting up the game, you'll need the mouse to bring up the appropriate menu first before you can learn which key activates which ability.

Once you come to grips with the controls, you'll discover that the shooting isn't very good. You may acquire different guns throughout the game, but aside from the wide shot, you don't get the sense that the weapons are that different. You aren't given any sort of indicator on how you lose weapons, whether you were hit or if the weapon was running on a timer; you just find out at some point that your bullets changed. The enemies don't feel that varied, and you'll sometimes find yourself shooting at random things that aren't very well designed. The appearance of collectibles is also uneven —some look too ornate for their own good while others look drastically plain — so you're unsure about whether you're acquiring the correct ones.

Boss fights provide the game with some challenge, but that partially comes from the fact that the depth is poorly conveyed. When a landmine is placed on the field, it's almost impossible to tell if you'll run into it because you have no idea how big it is or if you're on the same plane as the weapon. There are no real indicators that you're doing any damage to the bosses. Even if you see something flashing, the meter doesn't measure gradual progress, so you're often wondering if you're hitting the correct weak spot. More often than not, boss battles are simply spray-and-pray affairs that you'll slog through without feeling any real accomplishment once your foe blows up.

The presentation is pretty basic. The enemy design is rather non-distinct, but a number of the bosses feel like masses of different designs thrown together without an eye toward artistry. The colors are garish enough, and some of the effects, your bullets can get lost in mix so you really have no idea whether you're hitting something. The game also has no sense of forward momentum, and the random camera shifts make it more obvious that you're staying in one spot, switching viewpoints from one planet to another. Even if you consider that this was a mobile game, things look fairly pedestrian.

The sound fares no better, but you may think the game has none at all since the title screen is completely silent. Once you start, you're met with effects that sound generic and a soundtrack full of instrumental, uninspired rock. While the stage music changes, there's only one track used for boss fights, and none of them make the game worth listening to. This is one case where you're certainly better off providing your own music to make the game more tolerable.

If there is a saving grace to the title, it would be the willingness of the developers to listen to the community and improve the game based on their suggestions. The aforementioned keyboard commands, for example, came from a fan suggestion, as did the increase in gem size to differentiate it from enemy fire. That patch came out a week after the game's release, so the turnaround time was impressive. If the developers continue to listen to fan suggestions, then perhaps Zamarian can see some real improvements.

Zamarian gets some kudos for trying to use the tube format since it's still a rarity in the genre. Other than that, it doesn't do anything all that well. The controls are too squirrely to make you feel like you have any mastery over them, and the game doesn't break away from its mobile roots to embrace the advantages of the more versatile platform. The shooting feels uninspired until you reach the boss fights, which can be more of a confusing mess than something enjoyable. With an all-around mediocre presentation, Zamarian's only real saving grace is the $4.99 price tag. Even then, it's difficult to recommend this title unless you're desperate for a slightly different kind of shooter.

Score: 3.5/10

More articles about Zamarian
blog comments powered by Disqus