A Weak Blast From the Past
HIGH Drifting a motorbike around corners as missiles rain down around me.
LOW The boss that spams screen-clearing attacks.
WTF Is that the ship from The Last Starfighter?
A relic from the early 2000s, ExZeus: The Complete Collection offers arcade-style shooting action that’s faithful to a fault. Fault being the operative word here, as other than no longer costing money to play, the collection offers no bells or whistles.
Players take the role of a pilot wearing mech armor which allows them to fly around the screen, firing lasers at a point roughly at the center — an incredibly awkward way to attack enemies, since players aren’t actually aiming their reticle at foes, but rather, at a point somewhere behind them. This means every shot is an exercise in triangulating an enemy’s position and attempting to move so that they’re directly between the player’s gun and the background. If it weren’t for a lock-on missile launcher and a screen-clearing particle beam, I doubt I would have made it through the game.
On one level, I can’t fault ExZeus for the needlessly difficult controls — after all, as an arcade-based quarter-muncher, it was designed to frustrate and kill the player quickly in order to extract as much money from them as possible. in a home version, a person who purchased the game has to right to expect slightly more forgiving mechanics. ExZeus offers nothing to shave off the arcade’s rough edges. No difficulty levels, limited continues, a tutorial that barely bothers to explain the game’s systems – it has all of the downsides of the arcade version and absolutely none of the advantages of a console port.
While it may be frustratingly difficult, the game is at least visually attractive – the graphics are blocky and rough, but the explosions are pretty enough, and the enemies are well-designed, with huge bosses that are a pleasure to fight. Making my way to the end of levels tends to be a chore, but the actual boss fights, which involve elaborate attack patterns to learn and weapons that can be blasted off with concentrated fire.
ExZeus 2 is something of an improvement over the original – while all of the control and difficulty problems remain, the game has a much more ambitious structure than its predecessor. In addition to the series standard hovering and shooting at things in the distance, EZ2‘s gameplay constantly drops the player down to ground level where they get up close and personal with mutants and shock troopers. The player goes from strafing tanks to punching robo-hounds to hopping on a motorcycle or hovercraft and zipping through narrow canyons, avoiding enemy bombardment. Where ExZeus follows the same basic structure in every level, EZ2 is focused on changing the game so frequently that the player never has a chance to catch their breath – which makes it a far more engaging experience than the first game in the collection.
ExZeus The Complete Collection‘s greatest sin is just how threadbare it is. There’s nothing to unlock other than a few achievements, and no modifiers to mix things up once players have finished both games. With this kind of retro arcade collection one would generally expect to see things like a written history of the franchise, concept art galleries, and a set of challenges or achievements designed to get the player to go back to the game over and over, trying out different strategies and tactics, encouraging players to see everything the game has to offer. ExZeus, on the other hand, just tosses the games out there for anyone for anyone who enjoys the genre to check out. While there are some thrills on offer for fans of Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon-style games, there’s literally nothing else here for anyone who isn’t passionate about that specific subgenre.
Disclosures: This game is developed by HyperDevbox and Sickhead games and published by Ziggurat. It is currently available on PC/PS4/XB1/SW. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This was rated E10 by the ESRB, and it contains Fantasy Violence. It’s just robots shooting other robots. There’s zero questionable content in the game, unless you’re very sensitive about your kids playing anything even remotely violent.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no spoken dialogue, and all information is provided via text. Players cannot resize the text. I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. I’d say it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.