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 Post subject: Zero Strain (XB1 - PS4 - Switch - PC)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 7:38 pm 

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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 355
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
Have you ever played a game that turned out to be an exercise of difficulty?
Well, this review is about one of those games, and Zero Strain is the perfect example.

To begin with, let's talk about the positive aspects of this game. Zero Strain looks like your typical Twin-Stick shooter where your objective is to destroy all enemies until the "Target" appears, the only way to proceed to the next part of a stage is destroying the enemy tagged as the Target or else the game will spawn enemies until you finish.
Unlike most games where do you have to rack up a high multiplier, you start with the maximum multiplier of x32. This makes a radical turn in the basics of scoring as the game focuses on clearing the stage keeping the highest multiplier possible since this also affects your rating as a player. To maintain your rating and multiplier you have to avoid any damage when your shields are down, so basically your shield's HP is the room for error in the multiplier equation.

During your mission you'll be equipped with three "Weapons" which are actually your sub-weapons and your basic "Primary Shot". You're also given the ability to dash with the "Boost", but this is more than just for dashing purposes. The Boost allows you to dodge enemy attacks and avoid damage, but also you can ram shielded enemies with it. There's also another trick in your favor: The Synchro Boost, which immediately replenish your life and shield and damages nearby enemies after charging it completely troughout picking Weapon Charge, using weapons or damaging enemies constantly, this can best be described as a mix between a Bomb and Health Item.

Fighting our way down Chocolate Bar Avenue.

The main mode is called "Descent" this is where the objective, like I've mentioned before, is to eliminate enemies until the Target finally appears so you can destroy it and proceed to the next "Floor" of the level.

WATCH OUT! - The Big One is Closing In! -

The second game mode is called "Boss".
As its name implies, it pits you against a boss that you'll have to destroy before you get another Light Echo.

It's like X-Morph Defense, minus the fun.

"Protect" is the third stage format of the game.
This one omits the destroying all enemies until the "Target" appears before dropping to the lower level in favor of a "Tower Defense" format where your objective is to protect the "Resonator" where the Light Echo is located.

Surprising results for your first time using a heavy vehicle.

Everytime you complete a stage, your performance will be evaluated. While Rank E is the worst, and Rank S+ is the highest, this one is obtained by completing the stage intact, which is much easier to do in boss battles with the correct vehicle like the Obsidian Warcastle.
Light Echoes are also used to progress in the game, specifically as requirements to advance to the next levels, just like the Stars in Super Mario 64 and Pac-Man Championship Edition 2. Thus, you'll be repeating levels again and again with each unlocked ship (7 in total) so you can get enough Light Echoes to reach the end of the game.

Are we ready to fly with these planes?

Before going into a mission you'll be able to select any ship you've unlocked, and as you progress in the game, you'll unlock a new feature called "Augmenters" which grants you extra energy, major shield capacity or simply add 1 extra shot for one of your three Weapons.

Quantum Mechanics turn Strains into fighter aircraft, Call 01-800-QUANTUM and order yours today!

Essence Reactor is the "Hangar" where the Strains obtained together with the required Light Echoes will create a new Catalyst, which means one more ship to the hangar.

With the positive aspects of the game reviewed, it's time for the negatives, and BRACE YOURSELF 'cos this is REALLY gonna get ugly. The controls of the game. My God, they're the worst of all. Think about having both Analog Sticks as movement is a bad idea, because anyone who is familiarized with Geometry Wars will know that left is the movement and right aims the ship. In this game both are movement so most times you'll be crashing with something. Also, your ship will auto-lock on a specific enemy, making the game less playable than it should be.

This is the perfect example of how a combo making mechanic turns the game's basics upside down, and it just gets worse. The first part comes in the form of weapon overheating, just like Contra Rogue Corps and Stellatum, your Primary overheats and you have to wait until it reloads which becomes a brief moment of a "Free Shot" for your enemies and the reloading times vary depending on which ship you're using, this is a problem in the second "Protect" stage since the enemies and the projectiles will outnumber and outrun you because you'll be reloading a lot 'cos both the Boost and the Primary Shot share the same bar, that's already a fatal flaw. The other part is the goddamned "Turridamage" where you can't recover from a hit and you're already losing health like in Turrican. But the nail that seals the [EXPLETIVE] coffin is that if you die once or if the Resonator is destroyed in the "Protect" stages you'll have to start the level all over, in boss fights this means start the battle all over. So, if you play this game you're in for an infuriating session due to the boost up in the unfair difficulty. Also, you can end up leaving the combat area and fly in the void, but the void will damage your ship until it is destroyed by draining 5HP constantly without giving you a favorable chance to return with the lowest damage possible.

The last boss of the game is impossible on purpose as we have this wall-like structure that pushes you from the "safe" combat zone and pelting you with super devastating attacks and trying the trick of "finding a blind spot between the core and cannons" is out of the question since getting close to the boss drains your energy and touching him will result on instant death, a "No Room for Error" battle in all senses of the word.

You've gotta be [EXPLETIVE] kidding me, guys.

After killing this absurdely difficult boss you expect some great ending that rewards your survival against insurmountable odds, right? Unfortunately you won't get a hero's welcome, all you've get is a black screen telling you the admits that you could be playing something else than Zero Strain and the game wasn't playing fair at all. Then it unlocks the Omega levels and warns you the stages were meant to defeat you.
Omega levels are harder variants of the stages you've played before. Fortunately, they exclude the Protect levels and focuses on the "Descent" and "Boss" ones. After clearing the first Omega level, Aleira will congratulate you with the typical "A Winner Is You" speech congratulating and thanking you for playing, but she'd say there's still more dimensions to play, but that depends on me and she completely understands if I want to go my own way (refering to leaving the game). OF COURSE I want to go my own way...far, far away from this game, but it looks like there's still more work to do.

Well, the Omega levels, despite being optional they will unlock what can be called the True Ending of this game. If you're hunger for some pain, then go ahead, you masochist bastard and you've better had unlocked all the 7 ships, especially Obsidian Warcastle, Arc Tundra and Celestial Armory 'cos this game will deliver exactly that in the last boss battles: A harsh dose of pain in both Phantom Workshop Omega and Boundry Omega. The boss Marionette Omega is nearly impossible since you'll have to deal with constant small ships spawning, the "spawning hives" slamming your ship and DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED WITH THE AUTO-AIM LASER ATTACK. 'cos the only way to dodge that Instant Death attack is to learn to dash at the right moment with Z-Warrior Super Saiyan God skills and Gold Saint-like speed of light reflexes, and God help you when you reach The End Omega, 'cos that boss will kill you again, and again and again and again and again, making the Omega course a test of "How far you are from ragequit" with the game throwing one stupid move after another.

Don't come up with more of your stupidly hard levels...

Oh, You've finished the Omega levels. Wow! Your exploits are legendary. You're more than Top Gun, you're a God Level Top Gun, someone who is beyond the top 1% of all videogame aviators. You're beyond the Elite, beyond the Best of the Best and there's no way you can go better than that.
Anyway, the game once again congratulates you for completing the Omega levels and accepts defeat, but suddenly it says it has something else for you. The only good news is that is not another bunch of stages.

A hidden doorway opens and you enter. You've proven too tough for Hell to contain, and now Hell at last plays fair.
For you emerge from the door to see the green fields of Earth! Home at last.

This is what the game has to show you. Aleira relaxing in the outdoors while the Crystal Viper flies away from the collapsed The End in the distance. It's a nice pic but is still not rewarding enough for the mammoth efforts needed to complete the game. I mean, I was expecting for a cutscene with some emphasis on the game's lore or at least a staff roll with cool music playing while showing the stages being played by a gaming expert or a "Demonstration" like Super Castlevania IV's ending did, and that was SNES. So, the PlayStation 4, XBOX One, PC and Nintendo Switch can do something waaaaay better.

*In Duoss Core Ver. 3.3C voice* You're the greatest player.

Yeah, that pic of Aleria was the justification to play the Omega levels all this time around. Well done, you've conquered one of the worst shooters you've ever played.

To end with the gameplay part of the game, something that I've noticed is that the achievements are easy to get despite the horrible controls, and you don't have to progress through the whole game, just like in FullBlast.

Graphically, this game blends abstract art with futurism as we have these ships that have a crystal-like form that reminds me of the B-3B Metallic Dawn/B-3B2 Metallic Dawn II from R-Type Final, but combined with other ships like the Vic Viper (Arc Tundra), the X-LAY from RayForce (Spellforce Wyvern) and even Garm from Ginga Force (Obsidian Warcastle). For a supertechnology themed game there's a few instances of magical cirles in the style of Sisters Royale and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. The scenery takes some liberties on the dimensions you're going as it has more variety like tree branches, bricks and even dungeons blended with asteroids, making them more of a fantasy world rather than science fiction.

When Reimu Hakurei made the DBZ Fusion with an Equestria Girl (or someone was playing God mixing their DNA) and this came to existence.

As always, its nice to see an anime styled character, but in Aleira's case is quite the opposite for a bizarre reason. The cause? she looks like the Anime styled cousin of Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls with those hair and eye colors (minus the purple skin). I'm not a "brony" and I don't care about MLP, but with the internet and social media being bombarded with those things (HongFire's April Fools joke 2010-2019 for example) you'll end up knowing something about it whether you like it or not. Just take a look at KanColle: Kantai Collection (the 2018 Bunnygirl Ooyodo trend for example), Drakeposting, Sailor Moon Redraw Challenge, "Esto se va a descontrolar", and the idiotic and unfun "Press F" meme from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Fads that sooner or later will die out and wind up lying beside obvious fads like Pet Rocks, the Jheri Curl Activator, Garfield window cling toys, Wayne's World "Schwing!" and even Pingu. ┬┐Anyone still remembers that clay penguin, along with old memes like You're Winner, You Fail It, All your base are belong to us, and Ghostbusters Conglaturation?

The music of this game is a blend of techno and chillout that makes me think of Daft Punk in their Tron Legacy era. To be honest and fair, hearing this style of music in shmups is starting to feel repetitive and boring and as a reviewer makes me feel that I'm repeating myself. Not to mention, the game lacks of voice acting for Aleira.

- Aleira was commissioned by Jaron Kong and brought to life by Nicole Adamson (Concept) and QX (Final Rendition).
- The concept drawings depicted her with a more western-realistic look before deciding the anime style in the final design.
- You'll need a total of 80 Light Echoes to unlock all the levels, including the Omega ones.
- The word "Boundary" is mispelled as "Boundry".
- The header pic posted in Major Nelson's post is a major spoiler since it is the "Reward" for completing the Omega levels.

Zero Strain is basically "Geometry Wars Gone Wrong" as the controls feel broken and the gameplay is tedious and stupidly difficult at the point of being infuriating. It's like, being challenging might require difficulty and enemy strength, but when you put handicap after handicap on the player it becames no longer fun. Not even the Gamerscore Milker factor of this game or the anime-like character justify the purchase. You'd be better off with Geometry Wars Retro Evolved and Geometry Wars 3 Dimensions.
If you had the misfortune of buying this game, just get the achievements and uninstall the game. There's a thin line between challenge and stupidity and Kaio Meris crossed the line in absurd levels.

Now, if only Rising Star Games and/or Qute could bring us some news about Ginga Force's release in America I'd be glad to hear that 'cos that will be a well deserved break from playing trash shooters.
Fan of Transformers, Shmups and Anime-styled Girls. You're teamed up with the right pilot!
Bringing you shmup reviews with humorous criticism.

STG Wikias: Thunder Force Wiki - Wikiheart Exelica - Ginga Force Wiki

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