Review: Zoids Assault

Do you remember Zoids? No? Don’t worry, I’m sure not many people do. If you’ve never heard of Zoids, it’s a Japanese toy line that consists of animal-like mechs that are exceedingly popular. It’s spawned a few anime series, tons of manga, fanbooks, and unfortunately, games. In the eighties the toy line was released in America, but didn’t catch on as well as planned. A couple years back Zoids made another Stateside debut with an anime series on Cartoon Network, as well as a line of models that you could collect and play with your friends every morning in the cafeteria. Like many fads, its popularity waned, and eventually faded into the background. Now, in 2008, Atlus has made the decision to release Zoids Assault for the Xbox 360, in a move that both baffles and repulses me, because this could very well be one of the worst Atlus titles-or out of any game I own, for that matter-ever.

It’s not very often that as soon as I boot up a game, I would rather be doing homework. Zoids Assault opens with a very drab, gray camera view of a bunch of Zoids on the battlefield just hanging out. At least, that’s what I assumed, because for a good minute or so it was a bunch of zooming in and out with the camera on the various units. Then some soldiers came on. One told his captain how much he stunk, and then another shushed the soldier because a compatriot’s daughter had died. Yes, it made about as much sense to me as I’m sure that sentence just did to you. A few more pointless lines of conversation later, and we’re still sitting on the same screen, until the voices of the soldiers indicate a cease-fire has been called for. At that point the Zoids in view dissolve into static, with the words “CEASE-FIRE” in bold red letters. Hope you like the font and color of the words, because this screen is all you get to see while an apparent battle is going on. Something happens. Something loud. It appears there is some fighting going on. I won’t even pretend to know what happened, because one cannot assume what’s going on in a story alien to them when all one gets is sound effects and a snowy screen proclaiming a battle has supposedly stopped.
If you haven’t yet fallen asleep by then, you will in the next few minutes. Static anime illustrations accompany some of the most boring conversations ever heard in an introduction to a video game. Ten minutes later after the game attempts to establish a background for the gameplay ahead, I was none the wiser about what was going on. I did take note that the game seems to follow the Middle East’s history quite closely, and that for some reason or another, a battle was about to be fought between friendly and rival Zoids. I’m still quite unsure what is actually taking place in the game because of the extremely backwards way they chose to go about narrating and giving an authentic back story. After that travesty of an opening, I was quite hesitant to continue on, but for you, dear readers, I’ll brave any game. Luckily, about five minutes into the horrific display, I realized that I could skip the dialogue. Good thing.

Zoids Assault plays out like your boring, typical, every day strategy RPG. Initially I was excited as all get-out to learn that this was another one of Atlus’s offerings, as they know how to really spice up strat-RPGs. I could not have been more wrong. If the beginning of the game was any indication, I should have tossed the disc out the window of a moving car much sooner. At the beginning of each battle, your available Zoids can be chosen from, and you can pick out what spot to place them on in order to gain a strategic edge. Just doing this can be very tedious, because each unit is limited in how many spots it is allowed to move. Once you’ve moved all of the units you plan on moving, then it’s time to attack, and oh, what a grand time attacking is. Of course I mean for that phrase to be absolutely dripping with sarcasm.
There is a sufficient amount of weapon customization that you can take part in for your team of Zoids, and you can change colors, abilities, and a few other things, but the actual combat is so very sluggish and boring that you’re not given much incentive to actually do any of these things. Zoids move in an awkward diagonal direction toward their next point on the battlefield, and attacks are carried out in a short cutscene that depicts the chosen attack. The damage is calculated, and then it’s back to the drab battleground where your units as well as enemy units appear as teeny tiny board game pieces amongstT clay-colored, gray, and other similarly boring environments. It’s as simple as moving your piece to attack, then watching a mini animation of it being carried out. Rinse, and repeat. More than that, your Zoids always travel in teams of 5. Every battle sees you using five Zoids all of the time. It’s pretty boring, honestly. With the way the game is set up, the user interface is quite horrible. It’s extremely confusing and boring. Despite the confusion and boredom factor, though, what lies beneath if you have the patience to actually try it out is actually surprisingly solid gameplay. It’s just buried beneath a bunch of unnecessary frills and boring storytelling.

Enemy AI is dumber than a bag of hammers. With the battles concentrating on surrounding enemies with gunfire, they never quite do understand what’s going on. This results in some extremely easy battles and idiotic enemies. They might just put themselves right in the path of incoming fire. That’s fine if you want to breeze through the game, but in a strategy RPG you expect the enemies to be capable of making the same kinds of strategic decisions that you are. The story? Well, it’s almost nonexistent, and what is there is told in the exact same way as the opening scene. Honestly? Probably the worst presentation of a story I’ve ever seen in a video game. It doesn’t get much better than that, either.
The graphics in-game before you get to battle animations are extremely subpar. I’d liken them to Dreamcast graphics or maybe PlayStation 2. Units are so small you can barely tell what you’ve got equipped on them, what color they are, or which is which. Environments are drab, boring, and uninspired. It will get very old fighting in urban wastelands, deserts, and grasslands, because those are pretty much the only environments you will get to check out. It wasn’t good in Gears of War, but I can forgive them for that because unlike Zoids Assault, Gears of War was actually an awesome game. What’s even worse is that the developers had the completely inane idea to cover the screen in a film-grain like effect that you would find in Silent Hill. Because of that, it looks like you’re viewing vintage war footage or something similar. It’s completely off-putting and unnecessary. Perhaps it was a thinly-veiled attempt to hide how terrible the graphics really are. It does just the opposite. It makes me want to put the controller down and do laundry or clean the house.

The music? Honestly, I didn’t realize there was any, because it sort of just blends into the murky background of the game. In the beginning there’s a strange mix of quiet techno. There isn’t an opening theme or recurring motif, and in battles it’s driving, senseless rock/techno that tends to get old after the thirtieth tedious battle.
Don’t even think about buying this game just for the achievements. There are a total of eight, which all require you to trudge through a good part of the story before you’re awarded even a measly one. You know you’ve got a truly half-baked title when they couldn’t even be bothered enough to toss in the normal 20-50 or so achievements that you earn steadily as a game progresses.

Looking back on what I’ve said, it appears there is nothing redeeming about this title at all. That’s true. While buried deep under the muck and the uninspired gameplay, solid strategy RPG mechanics are present. If you bought the game looking for a story to discover some elements of the Zoids universe (a fan from when it made its debut), you definitely don’t even get that. This is a horrible last-ditch effort at revitalizing the Zoids franchise in the United States, and frankly, it’s embarrassing. When the first few minutes of a game implore you to call up your Aunt Jessamine and talk to her about her cats’ colon problems, you know you’ve stumbled onto something that’s not worth your time. The graphics are lackluster, combat is a lot like work, and there is little or no fun to be had. If you’re a masochist, and you enjoy putting yourself through experiences you will hate yourself for later, then this game is for you. If not, do yourself a favor and pass this up, especially for the ridiculous amount of $59.99 as it’s suggested retail price. Zoids are dead for a reason.

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