Zero Gunner 2 Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Zerodiv (originally by Psikyo)

Publisher: Zerodiv

Release Date: January 25th 2018

Price as of Article: £6.99 GBP

Introduction

There’s been a lot of excitement around the Switch and its ever increasing library of classic shoot ‘em ups. While HAMSTER have been busy adding the Neo Geo classics like Last Resort, Blazing Star and Pulstar, Zerodiv have been coming up with the good stuff too with Psikyo arcade classics Strikers 1945 and Gunbird. Fans of the genre have been watering at the mouth at what’s coming next and Zero Gunner 2 was high on people’s wish lists. As someone who’s recently been converted to shooters thanks to the Switch’s library, this was high on mine too.

Zero Gunner shooting in the city

Story

As you’d expect from an arcade shooter, the story was literally the last thing on their minds when developing the game. It’s one of those where, unless you read the leaflet that the original arcade cabinet or Dreamcast case came with, you would have no idea what was going on. There’s literally no story telling in the game. The story is pretty much non-existent, but I find it difficult to mark Zero Gunner 2 down in this regard because, let’s face it, nobody on planet Earth plays a hardcore arcade shooter for the story. In fact, just thinking about it, it’s probably a blessing there’s a there’s no story telling. Had there been drawn out cutscenes and dialogue, I would have been distraught at it for slowing down the gameplay. All you need to know is that you’re a cool attack helicopter that blows stuff up.

Audio

The audio of Zero Gunner 2 is great and suits an arcade game well. It’s not going to be your finely planned, nuanced OST that has emotion and depth. Nope, it’s just a pumping metal techno mix that tells you to go out there and blow stuff up. I wouldn’t say there are too many memorable tunes that will stick with me when not playing it but not every good soundtrack has that effect either and I’d happily listen to the songs even when not playing the game. Indeed, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to the soundtrack and absolutely loving it.

Visuals & Performance

As a turn of the century 3D arcade game, it’s obvious that Zero Gunner 2 is hardly going to be the looker it once was. By this point Psikyo had abandoned their gorgeous looking 2D pixel work for fancier, more attractive 3D models. When I say attractive, I mean early Dreamcast attractive. If I’d never heard that Zero Gunner 2 was a Dreamcast game, I would sure have heck guessed it. It bleeds the simple but crisp and bright models that the console was known for.

Nowadays, it doesn’t look great as textures are fairly poor and it does get uncomfortably close to the screen at times showing the low quality off in all its glory, but let’s be fair it’s as bright and crisp as it used to be. I like it, but maybe that’s because I’m very accepting of classic arcade games. I know some of you will look at this game and laugh but it’s just as well that the gameplay is what’s important.

It looks especially fantastic on the Switch’s screen where the colours really stand out. The less than attractive visuals are also suited to the smaller screen much better where their simplicity doesn’t show quite so obviously.

In both handheld and docked mode I found Zero Gunner 2 to be a very smooth experience. You’d think this would be obvious due to how old it us, but you can never be too careful. Zero Gunner 2 is an excellent port.

Gameplay

Now, with any revered shooter, there’s usually some sort of gimmick in the gameplay. You may have noticed that I’ve not talked about whether Zero Gunner 2 is a horizontal or vertical shooter and that’s because it’s actually omnidirectional, meaning the path to the end goal meanders from left to right, up and backwards, you move all over the place; enemies come from all sides too. Zero Gunner 2 allows you to change the direction your craft is facing. Now, it’s not twin-stick so the way to do it is both slightly clumsy and yet rather cool. Holding the Y or A button will plant a circular marker on in front of you which, instead of making you strafe, lets you circle around it. This way you can quickly change or adjust your facing direction at any point. No doubt you will feel slightly disorientated at first since the concept is a little odd from what we’re used to these days but it’s both archaic and ingenious. In some ways I’d say it’s better than having a twin-stick mechanism since it requires more skill and is just generally cooler.

The entire flow of gameplay revolves around this changing of direction and you must do it at all times. Your craft only shoots forward and enemies appear all around you and also shift themselves around the screen, especially mini-bosses and bosses. If you want to survive then you cannot keep facing forward. When you get into a flow of rotating and mowing down enemies it does feel very satisfying and I do believe there must some really high-end play potential for those who have truly mastered the game.

Zero Gunner 2 shooting a train

Aside from your standard shot which is always on auto-fire (thankfully), you do have a special shot which packs much more of a punch. The input is awkwardly positioned on the X button which is a slight stretch away from the standard shot at B. Personally, instead of taking my finger off of fire, I used the special attack with my ring finger. These special attacks can be fairly scarce but there is a way to get more aside from dying. At the side of the screen there’s an energy bar which can slowly be filled up by by collecting the gazillion cubes dropped by enemies after blowing them to smithereens. And by gosh you will need to collect a gazillion of them in order to completely fill the bar and get one extra special attack.

Something that I didn’t realise until well into my fourth play through is that you can make collecting the energy cubes much easier by stopping firing. If you stop shooting you will attract the dispersing cubes to you. Not only this, but these cubes massively increase your score too which brings a very incentivising risk versus reward feature to the game. To stop shooting is very dangerous as it won’t be long until you get overwhelmed with enemy craft and bullets. I suspect most casual players won’t bother with this as much but score attack fans will love this feature as it makes things hugely tense.

Each of the three available choppers have their own unique standard shot and special attack. I tried all of them and I definitely think my favourite is the yellow one, although the other two were more than usable. As with all good shooters there’s the possibility to upgrade your attacks. This is done by collecting tetrahedrons with the letter P in them, I assume the P means means power. This upgrades both attacks at the same time, however there aren’t many levels of upgrade as far as I can tell. You only need to collect a couple before you’re fully armed and almost God-like in your power, destroying everything in your way in a matter of seconds, even bosses!

There are 7 difficulty options in Zero Gunner 2, ranging from “Child” to “Very Hard”, it’s a step up at least from their previous efforts where the lowest difficulty level was hilariously labeled as “Monkey”. I played a variety of difficulty levels for review and while my initial play through on a mid-difficulty level was a bit of a mess skill-wise, the times after that I realised Zero Gunner 2 isn’t the most difficult of the Psikyo shooters I’ve played. Indeed, I played on the highest difficulty and only found real trouble on the seventh and final stage where the game basically says “Nah, you’ve gotten a bit too far now.”. The easiest setting is practically a joke where the enemies barely fire at all. There’s a wide variety of difficulties so it’s one of the most accessible shooters out there. You can still enjoy it even if you’re not good at the game or are beginning to learn.

Zero Gunner 2 shooting a robot climbing a building

As far as customisable options, there are not too many to be honest. You can change the number of lives, continues and special attacks you can have which is the bare minimum of expectations in my opinion. There’s one extreme scan line filter you can put on and that’s about it. Zerodiv, the company involved in this port are slightly behind HAMSTER (who do the Neo Geo ports) in this department. I would have dearly liked the ability to map controls, sadly that’s not possible here.

*This review was authored and published on switchwatch.co.uk and is unauthorised to be published elsewhere.

Value

As for value, it all depends if you’re into mastering a shooter or not. If you’re a one time play-only kind of gamer then, although you’ll have an awesome time playing Zero Gunner 2, you probably won’t get your money’s worth. A successful run of the game will barely scrape over the 20 minute mark and a few of those uninformed buyers will be looking around and scratching their heads asking “Is that it?”. Zero Gunner 2 is all about mastering the gameplay though, trying new things, trying harder difficulties, increasing your high score and even teaming up with a friend in two-player co-op. If you’re a lover of shooters like me, you’re going to put serious time into this game, playing it over and over again, enjoying every minute of it. I think the gameplay is unique enough and the amount of difficulty levels makes this definitely worth the £6.99 asking price. I mean, if you’re still unsure if £6.99 is reasonable, head straight over to eBay and check out how much this game is going for on a Dreamcast disc.

  • Highly recommended 90% 90%

Pros

P

Classic shmup gameplay

P

Great soundtrack

P

Interesting turning gimmick

Cons

P

Lack of button mapping

P

Aged visuals