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Zoids Assault
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Takara Tomy
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 09/09/08
Japan 10/18/07
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 60%
Sound: 65%
Gameplay: 60%
Control: 60%
Story: 40%
Overall: 55%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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See those red dots? There will be more later.
 
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Attack range plays a huge part in a winning strategy.
 
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Attack animations are pretty cool.
 
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Time for some healing. Er...repair.
Click for More Pics
John Tucker
Zoids Assault
10/01/08
John Tucker

You play some games because they look really fun, you play others because they have a great story, and let's admit it: you play some games because of nostalgia. Zoids Assault falls into that last category for me. As a kid, I had some windup Zoids, about which I knew nothing other than they were robot dinosaurs who would move around when I wound them up, and I thought that was pretty awesome. (What? Robot dinosaurs are cool!)

Story

Zoids Assault's backstory is that of two neighboring nations, Jamil and Maroll, who were on opposite sides of a world war. Maroll's side came out on top, but they still feel guilty about just how badly they destroyed Jamil. Maroll has been trying to put things right through a few different kinds of aid, but its government is now discovering that these reparations haven't exactly smoothed things over with their neighbor. It turns out that Jamil has been secretly working on a weapon that could easily wreak the same kind of havoc on Maroll that they received during the war. The actual game tells the story of a squad of Zoids being sent as part of a small set of troops whose goal is to stop that from happening.

Put that way, it actually sounds pretty interesting. Sadly, the in-game presentation takes "interesting" out of the equation, leaving players with a story that most will skip as much as possible. The story is told between each battle as several pages of static text, followed by a cutscene of static images with spoken dialogue. The static text reads like a history textbook, and the cutscenes show an army intelligence officer testifying to Maroll's Congress about what happened during the missions you're playing. Textbooks and congressional depositions: the stuff gamers' dreams are made of. To break up the monotony of the officer's speech, a few congressmen interrupt her from time to time, mainly to insult her. She is a dirty rotten defector, after all, so why should they believe her? My problem with these interruptions is that they feel completely implausible. Congress has brought an expert to brief them on events about which they want information, and they're going to waste their time arguing with her when she gives it to them? The troublemakers are eventually thrown out, but that only serves to remind the player of just how boring the presentation of this story is. The developers would have been better served to remember that the saying "a picture tells a thousand words" means that you don't have to actually say them all if you show the picture.

Gameplay

For those not familiar with the Zoids universe, a Zoid is a massive robot armed for use like a tank and shaped like some kind of animal. The player's characters, named Mace Squad, are a bison, two wolves, and two variations of liger [insert your favorite Napoleon Dynamite joke here], but that's not all you'll see on the enemy side. The different types of Zoids have different base stats, and each character is a member of one of three classes, which determines what they can equip and what skills they learn as they level up. Strikers handle close and mid-range combat, gunners fill the long-range needs, and engineers are the white mages. Engineers can damage enemies, but their primary function is to repair (heal) friendly units.

Between each mission, players are given the chance to equip their Zoids with weapons, armors, paint jobs, and skills. Each Zoid can only equip one weapon, and the choice can be an agonizing one, as players are frequently confronted with choices between things like greater damage and greater range. Armor feels fairly standard - heavier armor grants more protection but restricts evasion and movement. Paint jobs can affect a Zoid's stats, but none of the choices given to players at the beginning actually do. Skills are learned automatically as the characters level up, but must be equipped because each character has a limited number of slots for skills. Again, tough choices abound - is it better to be able to repair more damage at close proximity or to be able to repair less at greater range?

The gameplay setup is fairly standard: a grid-based battlefield where individual characters take turns in an order based on each one's speed statistic. During their turn, each character can (in this order) move and take an action. It certainly cannot be faulted for its accessibility. Less standard are the ways that concepts like range and line-of-sight come into play. In Zoids Assault, most weapons are like rifles: you can't shoot something you can't directly see, even if the thing in your way is a friend. The only exceptions are missiles, which allow a Zoid to shoot over obstacles, drastically changing the way that Zoid can be used in battle. Every weapon has a range, outside of which it is useless. Some will be effective from 1-3 squares away, others from 4-6 squares away, and others can attack all the way from 1-7 squares.

When a unit attacks, up to 3 of its allies who can see the unit being attacked and are in range will fire. Then, if the unit being attacked is in range to do so, it will counter the attack with one of its own, and if any of its allies are able, they'll join in. Individual turns can be brutal if you or your enemy has set things up properly. The one advantage players have over their enemies is the EMP gauge, which builds up any time damage is given or taken. Using an EMP on a character's turn not only attacks all enemies in range, but eliminates their ability to counterattack. Thankfully, the rate at which the EMP gauge fills is nicely balanced. Players won't get to use it every turn, but they can feel free to use it when a good opportunity comes up, and the enemy AI is pretty good, so players will definitely want to make sure good opportunities come up. If you find that you're close to failing a mission, you can even bail out and keep any XP and items you've obtained.

As with the story, the gameplay elements look good on paper, but somehow manage to trade "compelling" for "tedious." The only real complaint I have about battles is the fact that after the first or second battle, there comes a point in every fight where the enemy receives reinforcements. It seems like it's supposed to come as a surprise, but since it happens every time, players quickly get to a point of frustration ("Come on! I was getting close to finishing this stupid mission!"). The good news is that a Quicksave feature makes it easy to quit playing at any point without losing your progress. The bad news is that you'll have a hard time convincing yourself to come back and keep playing.

Graphics

Battles are presented in the normal overhead isometric view, with no fog of war to hide distant enemies from your all-seeing eye. Unfortunately, there's no way to zoom the camera, so unless players have outfitted all of their Zoids with different paint jobs, it can be difficult to tell some members of the squad apart by sight alone. When a Zoid attacks, the presentation switches to a cinematic camera with a grainy filter for the duration of the attacks and counterattacks. The filter's a bit cliché, but attacks are still cool to watch, at least for the first five minutes or so. Even better is the fact that you can hit Start to skip them and just get a report of damage done on both sides. As mentioned above, the graphics in the cutscenes are static images and text, which was very disappointing to me. I play a lot of handheld games, and I feel like I see better cutscenes than these on my PSP most of the time.

Sound

Like so many other things about this game, Zoids Assault's sound neither excited nor disappointed me. The music is not bad, and it fits the game well, but it's entirely forgettable. The sound effects get the point across, but are repeated often enough that they quickly cease to matter. The actress who voices the intelligence officer in the cutscenes does a good job, as do some of the other actors, but others are just awful.

Control

Zoids Assault controls like a game that's 10 years old. It feels archaic, rather than actually broken. It takes one step too many to navigate through menus, and two or three too many in the case of the initial load screen. It is nice that you can move the camera across the entire battlefield to see what's waiting for you, but that doesn't make up for the other things that are wrong.

Overall

Zoids Assault is a bland, uninspiring game that will keep the interest of very few gamers after the first battle or two. It's a case where there's less that's entirely wrong with the game than there is that fails to be right. If I were to guess what it is that makes the game lack fun, it would be that there's not enough to do. Players make some very small preparations for battle, and then their five nearly identical characters move and shoot, move and shoot, until the battle's done. After the first one or two, battles do require some strategy to win, but the tedium means that most players won't want to bother figuring out what it takes, and those who do manage to find the experience entertaining will be disappointed by its extremely short length: I got an Achievement for being 20% finished with the game at only 90 minutes in.



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