Zotrix hails from developer Zero Bit Games and publisher Oceans Media, neither of which have much history in the industry to speak of. The game itself took the early access route through Steam to become complete, sporting more levels, boss fights, and ship customization options now that the game is branded complete.
Complete in the developer’s eyes at least. From another perspective, there are many, many holes in the current design the leave this game’s hull cracked and leaking to near implosion. Starting from the top, the opening cutscene sets up the frame of the universe well enough with humans going into space, being taken out by aliens, and revenge is now on the species’ mind. From there, you are hereby dared to care about anything else the faces and text boxes relay to you. Every bit of it can be boiled down to “Go from here to there” with even a hollow reason to move few and far between.
This vanilla set of orders drags on for over 40 missions that do nothing to vary while the controls and design seem to be fighting you every set of the way. On the conceptual level, Zotrix seems to be a mixture of Geometry Wars and Space Invaders, pitting your upgradable ship against waves of various enemy ships. Zoom out the concept just a little bit and you already see the first problems; your ship moves backwards with each shot, intentionally ruining any optimal angle of attack you’ve set up until you slink into a corner. This isn’t a pure twin-stick shooter either because your ship does not obey your every command. Moving around the screen rotates the gun around an axis, and your gun stick doesn’t always move the weapon to where you command.
Encounter designs also feel completely unfair during mid to higher level runs. Bullet-hell doesn’t work when your ship’s model is much too large to sneak between deadly streams, and being able to shoot projectiles out of the air is appreciated, it does little to carve a safe path when combined with the rotating gun and other issues mentioned above. On another thankful note, you do have a bit of a shield and “lives” that downgrade your weapon by one with each expenditure. You can recover your weapon power periodically, when the coast is somewhat clear, but not your lives. Those mid to higher level runs though can slash through your stock in mere moments.
Your standard mission will have you run between outposts on a selected path with a measure of difficulty you can prepare for and view beforehand. It is an entirely possible scenario that you will glide through a difficulty-two path and be suddenly surrounded by paths that are five-plus and either have to smash your head against the wall for hours or start a new campaign. The map can offer some respite from this scenario, but the arcade-y feel too often morphs into an odd adventure game habit of sending you down a path of delayed impasse. It all feels exceedingly off-putting without any but the slightest hint of “You can do this if…” sentiment.
The landing screen for missions, inventory, and stock market exchanges of goods is no less perilous. None of the controls feel particularly well implemented here either as you have to manually click-through a dozen or more options to highlight your desired window, and do so often. Stock market trading seems not only unfair but unnecessary unless you’re in the star-crossed situation of being stuck and hard off for a particular material. The amount of equipment expands over time and missions completed, becoming necessary for survival during most of the runs you’ll be doing, but here again the game discourages grinding for materials. Once you go off path, you’ll have to find your way back there through another route that is at least two or three missions away usually. It’s a grind, this entire process, and it’s one where you feel every fractious scrape.
The arcade mode in Zotrix takes out the menu issues but can’t do much against the awkward ship controls. You’ll basically survive for a high score chase where you spend your points on upgrades to survive longer, creating the sole interesting balancing act this game has to offer. All the boss fights and alien races from the campaign mode make it here too, really highlighting this as the preferable mode between the only two in the game. It should also be said that the music here is a different kind of beast, plentiful but seeming to be completely out-of-place with its Dance Dance Revolution-style that doesn’t feel entirely spacey or filled with energy except a few racks. But there are a bunch of tracks at least.
Zotrix is a bit of a rough ride that turns to cinders under scrutiny. The campaign is more wrestling with controls on every level than it is twin-stick fun, and the story and music won’t do much to feed your sanity meter. Arcade mode feels like the apex of this game as it is with an implemented balancing system and plenty of levels to shoot through, but that bar still seems pretty low. Zotrix, in the end, feels like a shot in the dark to design something different for a classic genre, but the result doesn’t even reach par.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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