Oh, Zoids Assault, where do I begin? From the get-go, everything about this toy-inspired monstrosity screams low budget. If you’ve never seen one of the 80’s model robots from which this game gets its inspiration, then you’re not alone; I hadn’t either. After playing this game, I sincerely hope I never do. It will take an amazing amount of self restraint to resist snapping their little heads off in a fit of vengeance.
I spent the first five minutes of the game watching grainy “satellite footage” of a violated battlefield cease-fire. Believe me, it’s not as cool as it sounds; throughout the entire scene the Zoids never even move. It only gets worse from there. Instead of actual cutscenes, the game tries to rely on voice acting to convey a sense of urgency in the midst of battle; this attempt is rather hit or miss. During most missions, the developers didn’t even have the decency to dub in voice “talent.” Instead, you’re left with nothing to listen to besides boring music repeated over and over. Between missions, still anime images are used as a sort of comic book style cinematic. It starts off interesting enough, but quickly gets tedious and repetitive as you find yourself sitting through the same recurring scenes.
The story is set up through bland text screens before and after each level. Two nations, Maroll and Jamil, find themselves in the midst of a cold war following a conflict between their respective allies. The narrative is told in a flashback format; as a young woman briefs a defense council on past events, the player acts them out through individual campaigns. Unfortunately, it’s hard to ever really make sense of the actions that the plot attempts to convey; the game does its best to take on a mature tone through a story-line of backroom political operations. In the process, Zoids blatantly loses sight of the fact that it’s a game based around a toy franchise.
The gameplay itself is not too bad early on. The best strategy for successfully completing the missions is simply to isolate and eliminate enemies by surrounding them and building up your support fire. Each Zoid then takes a crack at the guy until he blows up in a poorly rendered fireball. An electromagnetic pulse weapon becomes your best friend quite quickly; it allows you to attack multiple enemies within its blast range without fear of a counter attack. Later missions can be pretty tough, you find yourself outnumbered and outgunned almost every time. Some levels require you to meet quite difficult conditions, and you’ll find yourself dying and replaying certain mssions A LOT. The game lacks any difficulty scaling, which sets up novice players for many hours of frustration. Thankfully, you are allowed to withdraw from any battle, at any time during your turn, while still keeping the experience points and items you’ve gained. Outfitting the Zoids between missions with armor, skills, and weaponry is a vital piece of this Strategy RPG. Some heavy artillery is best used for smaller cramped levels, but larger maps with open spaces and time constraints for meeting objectives require you to be able to move further with each turn. The highlight of the game is the attack movements, which are shown through a gritty, zoomed-in view. Of course, with each passing turn I found myself pounding the start button in order to skip these utter wastes of time. It says a lot for the game’s graphic capabilities when the best looking part is completely forgettable.
The environments are boring and repetitive, and there isn’t a single texture in this game that couldn’t have been handled easily on the original Xbox. The Zoids are decent looking, and they feature a number of different paint schemes, some of which can be downloaded with the Xbox Live code that’s hiding on the back of the game booklet. Why the developers would bother to package in download codes is completely beyond me. Wouldn’t it be easier just to include the extra paint jobs on the disc? Oh well, to each their own. My biggest complaint about the game is the Zoids’ movement animations. Despite this being a grid-based strategy game, the developers apparently couldn’t figure out a way to make one Zoid go around another when moving. Yup, you guessed it: they walk through one another.
All told, this game just isn’t worth the $60 price tag that Atlus decided to slap on it. For a strategy game, its short length is laughable (only 14 missions) and its execution is sloppy. Don’t expect anything great from this game; just expect to want your money back.