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Zenodyne R Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Despite good intentions, Zenodyne R fails to capture the shoot-em-up magic of the 1990s. The gameplay and level designs are fine (if not a bit basic), but the whole thing is sunk by an onerous unlock system that forces players to grind the same few levels for hours on end. It's a shame, because without this mechanic, Zenodyne R would have been an easy shooter to recommend. Rating: 50%
Zenodyne R
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  • Review Score:

  • C
In the good old days, 2D shoot-em-ups required players to sink hours of their life into memorizing bullet patterns and boss habits. That's just how it was; games were purposely hard so that you didn't realize how short they were. At the turn of the century, Ikaruga shook things up a bit by giving gamers a helping hand. While you still had to do a fair amount of memorization, the shooter was kind enough to add an extra continue for every hour you played.

I bring all this up because Zenodyne R attempts to take Ikaruga's approach to the next level. Instead of simply unlocking extra continues, we're able to earn new ships to fly, story beats to explore and even a freeplay mode. It's the kind of clever idea that should have made this 2D shooter one of the most addictive games of the year. Sadly, the crummy implementation ends up working against an otherwise solid action game.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Zenodyne R is a brand new release inspired by the overhead shooters you used to see on the Sega Genesis. I'm talking about games like M.U.S.H.A., Truxton and Grind Stormer. You take control of one of several space ships and fly through a half dozen harrowing stages in order to take the fight to the aliens and win the day.

Each level begins with a brief prologue, giving players a quick taste of the action and then a boss fight. Once through that skirmish, we're given a choice whether to play the easy or hard version of the stage. I was surprised to see this play out not just in the first stage, but every stage. This allows you to take on some harder levels early on and then bump the difficulty down a bit when things get untenable in the final stages.

While our ships may be nimble and able to weave through enemy bullets, they only have two different weapons. The standard fire is a powerful concentrated attack, while the other spreads the attack out to cover more of the screen. For those times you get trapped by a hail of fire, there's a bomb you can drop that will erase all of the bullets from the screen and turn our hero invincible for a few seconds.

With the exception of a few minor details, this is all pretty standard stuff. The stages have you playing in a predictable direction shooting down a lot of familiar enemies. There are several boss fights in each area, including a couple that lead up to a real nasty battle at end of the level. If you can survive all this, you'll move on to an even tougher battle worth more tech points.

Zenodyne R (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

You might not realize it at first, but these tech points will quickly become a driving force in the game. We start out with only one ship and a very limited amount of continues, which certainly won't be enough for most people to finish the fight. But as you defeat bosses and make it through levels without continuing, you'll earn tech points that will be used to unlock extra ships and continues.

In theory, this should be a great way to keep players invested in the game. There's just one problem: This sets up a situation where you're stuck replaying the same stages over and over trying to grind for tech points. It doesn't help that we're expected to earn hundreds of these points, but only get a few at a time. If you can make it through the first stage you'll earn a whopping four points, six if you do it without dying too many times.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but the reward system feels stacked against you in the first few hours. It probably won't take you long to earn the second continue, since it's the very first thing you unlock. But trying to earn the 175 points needed to unlock that third continue will prove a lot more time consuming, as it took me dozens of plays to harvest that amount of tech points.

Sometimes you'll earn prizes for gaining only 25 or 50 tech points, while other times it's 150 or 175 points. And instead of being more spread out later in the game, I found the opposite to be true. What will take you 150 tech points to unlock early in the game will mysteriously only take 50 towards the end. After spending so many hours grinding the same levels just to get 175 points, it felt like a slap in the face to see that you only needed 1 point to earn the sixth credit.

Zenodyne R (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

This is incredibly out of balance, to the point where I didn't want to waste any more time with Zenodyne R. Since the tech points multiply as you get deeper into the game, it would make more sense to spread the prize values further apart. But that doesn't happen, and I found that I was flooded with unlockables as soon as I earned a few extra continues. But it took the better part of two hours to get to that point, and in that time it felt like I wasn't earning a damn thing. I just replayed the same levels with the same enemy patterns and the same boss fights. That isn't fun.

As much as I love fast-paced shoot-em-ups, I found that I had a hard time focusing on anything other than the tech points. I was obsessed with earning as many as I could with each play, since anything less would mean I would have to redo those stages over and over again. This proved to not be a problem a few hours in, but getting to that point took so long that I started to resent the whole experience. It's a shame, because without this onerous gimmick, Zenodyne R would have been an easy shooter to recommend.
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