ZeroRanger (PC) Review

By Gabriel Jones 18.01.2019

Review for ZeroRanger on PC

The entire planet is cloaked in darkness. Is this an eclipse or is this… oh, no! The unknown alien vessel 'Green Orange' has invaded! Before the Planetary Defence Force could mobilize, almost all of their functions were seized by the otherworldly threat. Indeed, the enemy has turned mankind's own weapons against them. Only two fighter ships have managed to escape the disaster. Now, the hopes and dreams of billions rest on a desperate counterattack. Welcome to the wonderful world of shmups, where the chances of survival are always less than a hundredth of a percent. However, when it comes to ZeroRanger, not all is as it seems.

Oftentimes, a great videogame is basically the result of taking a workable concept, and iterating on it. It's sort of like clearing a threshold or making checkmarks on a long list. As long as "Game X" has a bunch of good qualities and just few (if any) bad qualities, then enjoyment is guaranteed. If one ignores the costs inherent to development, this could be considered the "safe" way to make an entertaining product. Then there's the STG ZeroRanger. It isn't afraid to take chances, even when a single mistake can ruin everything.

If System Erasure had wanted to, they could've easily stuck to the same template that has benefitted shmups for eons. As long as it looks good and plays better, then it's perfectly all right. At the level of talent they've showcased in this product, the developer could've easily strung together six stages of increasing intensity, each followed by the obligatory boss battle. The final result would be an entertaining weekend romp, but apparently that wouldn't have been enough for them. In order to create something truly magical, one must commit to taking immeasurable risks.

Screenshot for ZeroRanger on PC

This game could be described as anti-establishment, a pushback against the norms governing the genre. Each of its four stages represents wild shifts in tradition. Just when the player thinks they have a handle on what's going on, they're thrown into an entirely new scenario. If one isn't able to adjust to a constantly changing situation, then they simply won't survive. Although each stage shares very little in common, there is an undercurrent of solid mechanics throughout. The fundamentals are never eschewed in favour of a cheap gimmick. No matter what the pilots are faced with, they always have the tools to survive, and the controls will never fail them.

Most of the aforementioned tools are tied to an upgrade system. After clearing a stage, pilots are given a choice between two weapons. Depending on what they choose, they'll have to adjust their strategy. For example, after completing the first stage, the option for either a side-shot or a rear-shot is given. In the next stage, they can decide on either a charged shot, or Radiant Silvergun-inspired targeting lasers. It's impossible to get an arsenal that accounts for every possibility. Since enemies tend to attack from all directions, survival is more about positioning and movement than weaponry. Both playable ships also have their own strengths and weaknesses, though Type-B tends to be the favourite. In any case, these choices offer added replay value, so they're worth exploring.

Screenshot for ZeroRanger on PC

For the most part, the scoring system is pretty simple to figure out. The bulk of the points are going to come from achieving a large multiplier bonus, which is accrued simply by destroying multiple enemies in a relatively short period of time. As long as one doesn't make a lot of mistakes, they shouldn't have too much trouble chaining entire stages. There are also a number of secret bonuses to unearth. In most cases, it's just a matter of shooting anything that looks interesting (and orange). Defeating bosses quickly and not losing any lives will also help out those looking for high scores.

Unlike most games of its ilk, ZeroRanger doesn't really have difficulty settings. Instead, it pulls elements from both arcade and console shmups to ensure that players are sufficiently challenged, but never frustrated. When starting out, deaths are liable to very frequent, and there aren't any sub-weapons to fall back on such as screen-clearing bombs. Instead, extra lives are doled out at a very generous rate. It's fairly easy to earn at least two or three in each stage. However, it doesn't take long to lose them all.

After playing shmups for so long, one is bound to enter a state of complacency. They know exactly what to expect and will exert the minimum amount of effort necessary in order to win. That attitude simply won't fly here. The fast-paced action and quick bullet spreads are going to feel like a swift kick in the teeth. It's not quite relentless, but still demands that the player be awake and at full attention for the entirety of a playthrough. The later bosses are especially tough and will require a lot of practice.

Screenshot for ZeroRanger on PC

It's also worth noting that this title implements a rank system of sorts. As the player's skill improves, the game will become harder. Enemies that might have been passive in the last attempt will start firing bullets in the next. Destroying waves of adversaries quickly can also cause more to spawn in. New dangers and new opportunities for a high score go hand in hand. This also helps to keep veterans enthused about playing the first few stages repeatedly.

Explaining what exactly makes this so spectacular is actually kind of difficult. For one, there are a couple twists… that really can't be mentioned here. Prospective players would be doing themselves a disservice if they watched a replay on YouTube or elsewhere. This is one of those rare titles that's packed to the gills with ideas, and yet they're all executed wonderfully. No matter what transpires, the person holding the controller (or keyboard) is never left behind. The risks that are taken would undoubtedly sink lesser games, but that isn't the case here.

Now what if someone happened to spoil the experience of the first playthrough for themselves? Rest assured, even if somebody knows about all of the twists, they'd still be left with an absolutely wonderful shmup. Every situation is creatively implemented, while making full use of the fighter ship's unique weaponry. There are nods to a handful of popular titles, but the references are expertly handled and fit the game well. The controls are also as they should be, flawless. Oh and despite all of the surprises that are thrown at the player, there aren't any cheap deaths. That feeling of "How the heck was I supposed to dodge that?!" simply never occurs. It can hurt one's pride knowing that they're solely responsible for all of their failures, but that's how it goes.

Screenshot for ZeroRanger on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

ZeroRanger is, by all accounts, just plain incredible. Even someone who has played hundreds of shmups might not be adequately prepared for this one. It really does have an identity all its own, and that's an exceedingly rare feat. There are so many fresh ideas here, and they are all cleverly implemented. Nothing ever feels out of place. This creativity also doesn't come at the expense of the game itself. There is enough depth to satisfy players of all skill levels. All in all, this is something quite new and amazing, so be sure to check it out.

Developer

System Erasure

Publisher

System Erasure

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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