ZHEROS is a side scrolling 3D beat’em up with comic-book style visuals and over-the-top action. Players use their fists, guns and even mech suits to take down the seemingly endless hordes of enemies that willingly throw themselves in the line of fire.
In ZHEROS players are pitted against waves of enemies such as robots and strange alien creatures using an array of attack combos. In addition to their melee moves, each character also has several tools at their disposal, such as an energy shield to defend themselves and a powerful gun for range attacks; all of these are integrated into their suit and can be recharged by absorbing the energy dropped by despatched lower order.
Mechanical armours are available in the most hectic situations in order to destroy everything standing between our heroes and their goal. These hi-tech mechs are equipped with laser beams, rockets and a plethora other powerful weapons.
The ZHEROS themselves aren’t formally introduced at the beginning of the game; instead, the player is left to assume that they’re some kind of intergalactic peacekeepers. Mike is the stronger of the two, providing brawn over brain and collapsing with exhaustion at the end of every stage due to sheer size; meanwhile Dorian is light on her feet but slightly weaker, preferring to use her feet rather than fists. After picking a character there’s no way to swap between the two, which is an incredibly odd choice. Consequently, you’re forced to stick with your chosen character for the entire duration of the game. The other character doesn’t even show up from time to time, in fact, they aren’t seen or heard of again until the game’s end scene!
Visually ZHEROS is initially appealing. The animation is smooth and there are some pleasingly subtle motion and distance blurring effects on show. The assortment of oddball alien enemies is reasonably large too, with new types introduced every two or three levels. There’s a sense of satisfaction to be had from destroying large crowds of enemies in one fell swoop for a while at least, as tedium starts to settle way too soon. Alas, this is the least of the game’s biggest flaws.
The combat system is decent, with each character having a number of different combos. It’s essential to block and evade when up against the larger enemies, which include robot cows that spray green ooze from their udders, as their heavy hitting attacks will nearly always lead to an early grave. Raising the shield at the right moment opens up the possibly to deflect laser blasts which is mildly satisfying. With each and every upgrade, the lead characters grow notably stronger; enemies that took several blows to defeat can eventually be destroyed with just two or three hits. So there is at least some sense of progression on offer.
Most stages are formed from long stretches of narrow platforms, occasionally punctuated with a moving lift or makeshift staircase, although aside from a level where a large shutter has to be closed to prevent taking damage from a raging inferno, there are no interactive elements to speak of. Over the course of the game, levels start to blur into one; even the obligatory level set on a moving train fails to stand out, and although there are some boss battles they each have very similar attack patterns. I had no trouble defeating them on the first attempt due to the vast number of health packs dotted around the outside of the battle arenas. The level design, or rather the lack of it, is a fine example.
In addition to the previously mentioned flaws, I also found there to be some control issues throughout the game; although luckily combat doesn’t really require much precision. I lost count of the number of times I plummeted to my death trying to clear a gap as the game didn’t register my having pushed the jump button. There’s a combination puzzle where you need to roll across an electrified floor then navigate a series of moving laser beams. The trouble is you can’t see the beam before you start rolling across the floor, so you have no way to tell if you’re just about to roll into a face full of laser. On a related note, the levels that are built around these puzzles suffer from heavy framerate stuttering for some reason.
This I feel is the main problem with ZHEROS, it doesn’t do enough to make itself stand out among a crowd of side-scrolling beat ’em ups, playing like a multitude of games that have come before it. I can’t emphasise enough that I did enjoy playing ZHEROS, but I did find my attention being drawn to other games waiting to be started that lay on my shelf. I think this is the main problem ZHEROS faced, its release window is in a time of far too many better games, each vying for our hard-earned cash.