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Zorro The Chronicles

Platform(s): Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NACON
Developer: Bkom Studios
Release Date: June 16, 2022


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PC Review - 'Zorro: The Chronicles'

by Cody Medellin on June 16, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Offering a unique and bloodless gameplay and features inspired by best-in-class action/ adventure games, Zorro The Chronicles is combining thrilling combat, exciting exploration, and immersive experience.

When it comes to creating games based on kids' properties, timing is everything. Games based on films, TV shows, or books for an older audience can survive being late in the name of quality, but unless the kids' property is insanely popular, you need to be an extraordinary title to strike after the subject is long out of circulation. Zorro: The Chronicles may have the luxury of being on Netflix, where shows can have a longer than expected shelf life, but we are talking about a cartoon that ended its run in 2016. Having a related game come out now is an odd decision, especially when the result is lacking in a few areas.

After five years getting a higher education in Spain, Don Diego de la Vega has returned home to California. Unfortunately, he has returned to a home where the local townspeople and indigenous people alike are being mistreated by the army captain, Monasterio. Unable to oppose the captain directly, Don Diego dons the persona of Zorro, a masked swordsman who protects the people of Los Angeles from oppression.

Unlike a number of licensed games out there, this one comes with the assumption that you know everything there is to know about the series. The opening cinematic is essentially the opening beats to the show's trailer, but it's done with no acknowledgement of who the characters are. The missions only contain brief text blurbs of what's going on, and the pre- and post-mission cinematics show you arriving at the scene or have the captain lamenting that you wrought havoc on his troops. For those using the game as a gateway to the cartoon, it won't work out that well.

Before starting a level, you'll be asked to choose between Diego and his sister, Ines. Aside from the slight cosmetic differences between their Zorro outfits, the only other difference is that Diego has an extra special meter, while Ines has one more unit of life. After selecting your hero, you select the level and the entry point you want to use, if the level features them. The 18 levels in the game open in batches, so while you'll need to beat the 18th level to defeat the game, you can do so while also tackling the other levels out of order. Considering the intended audience for this title, the move is a good one to reduce frustration and ensure they get to see the end without running into too many roadblocks.

Once you get into the actual gameplay, it can be best described as a simplified version of the Batman: Arkham gameplay loop that's been toned down for kids. If you go for a stealthy approach, you can crouch to sneak up behind enemies and knock them out. You don't need to worry about dragging their bodies away to keep them out of sight of other guards, and while you don't see an enemy's vision cone, you will notice that their awareness meter fills up slowly enough that you can take care of them before they sound the alarm to notify more guards. You can use your whip to latch onto ledges or lamp posts, so you can perch and use your spyglass to identify the guards' locations.

If you choose to go head-on against foes, the combat mechanics are also up to snuff. You have a one-button combo system for sword attacks, and the game has you auto-targeting, so you can handle large crowds with relative ease. You can use your whip to stun enemies, but you can also perform parries and leap over enemies to get out of danger. Hitting combos fill up your special attack meter, which you can use to knock out enemies with one shot and some cinematic flair. Some have you properly knocking out your opponent with a trip, while others have you carving your signature Z on your enemy's chest, causing them to faint before you continue fighting.

The combat is fluid, and one of the reasons comes from the use of your environment to your advantage. Knock an enemy near a horse, and they get kicked. You can have enemies run into posts or get knocked into crates. They can trip into hay bales. You can knock them into fire pits or into fountains. You can also knock them against railings, so they start hanging from there. All of these are instant knockout points, and the game is littered with enough of them that a good parry or even dumb luck enables you to see these things constantly. It's a huge boon if you play at the game's Hard difficulty.

Beyond the stealth and combat, Zorro has a few other things to keep you busy. There are many spots in each level where you can put up defaced wanted posters, some of which are quite humorous. You'll also enter a few combat zones where you'll be challenged with taking out enemies in certain ways, like from above or knocking them into trees. Completing both of these things gets you bonus coins, which help you obtain upgrades like better combos, more health, and better whip attacks.

Everything sounds pretty good, and there are elements that would be nice to see adopted in other similar action games, but there are several gameplay issues that drag down the experience. For one thing, some of the knockdown results will make you shake your head. Granted, this is a kids' property, so showing death isn't ideal. Some of the results have people eternally hanging off ledges, guards jumping up after getting burned before fainting, and Zorro making a smoky exit after losing their health. Others look goofy, like having enemies sulk when getting hit into fountains, making you wish they had done something more believable. It's a minor quibble but worth mentioning.

Another annoyance comes from interacting with objects. Anytime you have interact with anything in the game, you need to hold down a button and wait for a meter to fill before that action can occur. In some cases, it makes a little sense, like opening a door with a key. You can make the argument that putting up a poster would also warrant that wait. However, trying to pick up a key or a map piece also brings up that meter, which makes no sense at all. For a game that is otherwise fast-paced, it's frustrating to have those moments slow down the pace.

During combat, the one issue you'll often encounter is that the camera misbehaves. Get into a fight in an open area, and there's a good chance that you'll be on the camera fringes rather than the center focus. Go near walls or objects, and the camera gets obscured or too close, so you have no idea what's happening. The only reason it isn't a gamebreaker is because you can button-mash your way out of enemy mobs to clear out space and get the camera behaving correctly, but it remains a big annoyance because of how frequently it occurs.

The most egregious issue is the constant hang-ups, particularly when you use your whip to reach higher ledges. Only specific ledges and posts can be grappled, but the game doesn't realize that you've actually landed on that higher surface. You're locked in a flying animation with no way to get out of it until you quit and retry the mission. It wouldn't be too bad if it were a one-time deal, but it happened often enough during intense fights and when nothing else is going on. For such a short game, encountering this is enough to make you simply quit rather than bothering to retry the stage.

The presentation isn't exactly gripping. The graphical style matches with the animated series quite well, but that's faint praise since the series isn't exactly magnificent. Visually, this belongs to the Xbox 360/PS3 era, rather than something at least one generation later. The animations are decent, but the environments lack visual flair beyond just being caves, pueblos and ranches. The game runs at a very high frame rate, so performance isn't an issue.

As for the sound, the music is fine, perhaps a little better than the show itself, but the typical cartoon sound effects come off as hokey, considering that the animated series contains none of that. Those looking for any character voices will come away severely disappointed. Aside from grunts and the constant shouting of Zorro's name when the captain discovers the aftermath of a level, there are no voices. Their absence makes the guard discoveries feel less threatening and the cut scenes lifeless; it's not something that helps a licensed title.

Zorro: The Chronicles is a below-average game made worse by a litany of bugs. From an unruly camera to the ease with which you can get stuck in the environment, it tests the player's willingness to stick with it. If you are lucky enough to make it through a play session without any of these issues, you'll find an unrefined combat system that's accompanied by a childish approach that aims younger than the ESRB rating. It has the bones to be a kid-friendly version of the Batman: Arkham series, but the execution is more than lacking, and you'll be hard-pressed to give this a shot unless you know someone who just discovered the series or can find this title on sale.

Score: 5.0/10

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