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Zeit² Review (XBLA)

Game Review: Zeit²
Release: 1/12/11
Genre: Side-Scroller/Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft / Brightside Games
Available Platforms: XBLA, PC
Players: 1
MSRP: 800 MS Points ($10)
ESRB Rating: E
Website: http://www.zeit2.com

Zeit² has an attitude.  It doesn’t like you and your slow, soft, mushy reflexes.  It doesn’t like your mono-focused mind.  And it certainly doesn’t like your controller, your glass coffee table, or possibly your nice HDTV.  Zeit² is a side-scrolling, time-traveling shoot-em-up that will make you finally understand Stockholm Syndrome.  You will curse, wonder why you are still playing, and contemplate whether sections of the board are even passable.  And you will love every minute of it.

You pilot a ship that uses the same energy to power both its shields and lasers, and must take out hoards of enemies, while avoiding projectiles, collecting boosts, and racking up high scores.  And you do it alone… sort of.  You have the unique ability to travel back in time whenever you wish, allowing you to kill enemies at one end of the screen, travel back in time, and let your doppleganger kill those same enemies while you move somewhere else on the screen to kill more in places you normally wouldn’t be able to reach.  There are 4 main levels, with 4 stages in each level.  Some of these have bosses that will need to be dispatched, and just about each level introduces a new enemy or weapon or skill to keep things interesting.  On top of this basic “story” mode (there is no story), there’s also several other variations of the game including traditional variants like Time Attack or Wave, and interesting ones like Tactics that require you to solve puzzles in the form of what order to kill creatures to maximize your score.  There is a ton of replayability here between the modes, and the online scoreboards will instantly let you know how you fare against the world, so that you can continually try to improve.

The time-travel aspect of this game is the gimmick, so it’s worth going into a bit more detail on it.  It works well, and reminded me of Braid at first with how it was implemented, though I quickly realized that if I was ever going to get through the game, I needed to master how exactly it worked.  When you travel back in time, you create a shadow of yourself that will perform the actions you performed from the moment you initiated time travel up to 4.2 seconds prior to that moment.  During that time, you can fly a “second” ship to other parts of the screen to dispatch other creatures.  You can also interact with your shadow to create more devastating attacks that also pile up the score multipliers.  It’s a feature that vastly improves upon the standard of flying left to right and picking up powerups; you can now find a way to kill everything everywhere if you master the time travel aspect.  You can also move time forward, flying through levels at high speed to increase your scoring bonuses. To master the game (and get the highest score) requires a balance of fast forwarding and reversing time in such a way that you destroy everything, and stay alive.

Don’t think you can just spray the whole screen with your attacks, however.  Each shot takes energy, and killing enemies restores a little energy, so you must balance between canvassing the screen with bullets, and acquiring energy.  You also lose energy when almost any enemy makes it across the screen without being killed.  This mechanic forces you to choose what enemies can be killed when, and encourages the time travel aspect to ensure you are not losing too much energy to passing enemies.  Again, a well-thought out mechanic that keeps the action moving; you never just move up and down shooting endlessly, there is a method and timing that must be followed in order to survive each round.

The game brings a lot to the table that shoot-em-up fans will enjoy.  The new mechanics of time travel and weapon upgrades are introduced slowly, but are implemented immediately.  The levels are not overly long, so you never feel like you’re going to be stuck forever, but some of the levels do provide considerable challenge.  The game is easily approachable, with basic controls and a simplistic look and feel to the game, yet those who would consider themselves experts of the genre will find mastering the game both entertaining and difficult.  Boss battles are (with one exception) challenging without being frustratingly so.  The variety of game modes also keeps things fresh, with a number of challenges to cater to whatever style of game you prefer.  The presentation of the game is crisp; graphics, sound and music are all good, nothing to wow your socks off, but it doesn’t take anything away from the game either. Finally, for those looking for 200 quick achievement points, you could probably get all that this game has to offer in a day’s work; I picked up 8 of the 12 in a basic playthrough on all the modes.

There’s not much not to like about this game, but they all stem around the same concept.  There’s not a huge amount of enemy variety.  Granted, there aren’t many levels in the game, but the simplicity of the presentation also lends to a somewhat stifling diversity of enemies.  It would have been nice to see enemies that would take energy away if they were shot, and provide energy if allowed to cross the screen, to add variety and scoring opportunities to the game (shooting these creatures would net points, at the cost of life).  The bosses feel like they repeat, and the final boss will take a few tries to get through (you should keep breakable object away during the battle).  Fortunately, boss battles are right after a checkpoint, so dying won’t force you to start the whole level over.  You will also likely see everything the game has to offer in one sitting.  You will not master it all, but you will certainly experience the entirety of the game within about 5 hours.

vttym’s take: The decision to buy this game is a no-brainer if you are even remotely a fan of shooters.  I’d consider this a tough, intelligent foray into the genre, with mechanics that make the game feel fresh and new without changing what makes a shooter enjoyable.  There’s enough variety offered, and the fun factor is high enough that at $10, you are coming out well ahead.  It’s not often that I get to play a game that actually reminds me of when games were a test of hand-eye coordination and skill, and Zeit² was my trip down memory lane for when games were games.  This is well-put-together, and is worth your time.

+ Fast, Frentic play

+ Fantastic time travel mechanic makes the shooter genre feel fresh

+ Variety of game play modes

– Somewhat lacking enemy variety

– Final boss will make you question your qualifications as a gamer

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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