Solve Problems With Punches –
In the early 90’s the brawler genre dominated arcades and home consoles but as gameplay evolved this “punch-everything-and-walk-to-the-right” type of game gave way to First Person Shooters and RPGs. Zeno Clash, and now its sequel Zeno Clash II, are throwbacks to this old brawler genre but integrated with modern gameplay design. This is a unique hybrid of gameplay styles but unfortunately falls flat on a few levels that holds back the entire experience.
Unlike the sprite-based 2D sidescrolling brawlers of yesteryear, Zeno Clash II is a First Person 3D brawler. Instead of swapping through an arsenal of guns like in CoD or Halo, this title simply dons your left and right fists. In a way, it is almost like Fight Night or even Punch-Out! but in an adventure style environment. Simply tapping the Right Trigger will throw a quick right jab but holding it down will toss an uppercut, for example. Then, using a combination of sprinting, both left and right attack buttons, and the analog stick will create new moves to make combat more like a puzzle game built on reaction time. Combat remains balanced as button mashing, blocking and special moves will cause exhaustion and vulnerability but hit-and-run tactics usually work for most encounters.
Developed by Ace and published by Atlus, Zeno Clash II, like its predecessor, is a bizarre game. In fact, pretty much everything in this game is so far out there that the only thing that is recognizable is the sense of gravity, even though the lack of a jump feature puts a limit on exploration. The environment and the characters within are awkward mutant abominations that are actually borderline disgusting and nightmarish. You ever fist fight a humanoid-chicken that has teeth in its beak? Or how about going toe-to-toe with a boar-headed man who speaks in a nightmare voice? Or what if your parents was a one-eyed giant turkeyman that is both your Father and Mother? Zeno Clash II, like the original game, is filled with nonsensical material that will stay with you long after you turn the power off. Nothing makes sense and it is not supposed to. It is creepy and disturbing.
Unfortunately, a few flaws really keep this title from being the outlandish experience that it should have been. First, if you didn’t play through the first game, the story will make little to no sense if jumping right into this sequel. There isn’t even a recap story summary in a loading screen or contained within the main menu; basically you are trying to unite your anthropomorphic brothers and sisters with FatherMother while fighting this Golem dude who talks with no mouth. Like previously mentioned, this is one weird game.
Also, it can be difficult to know where to go next. Describing the map function as limited is an understatement and characters will never repeat themselves so it is easy to forget what you were supposed to do or where you were supposed to go if you return to the game a day or two later. The objective marker points the player in the right direction but never provides a clear path on how to get there. Although the optional tutorial is helpful to learn the basics of combat, the game never really explains how to use items. For example, within a few hours the player will find this gauntlet that can harness the power of the moon or the sun but it is never explained very well that you need to use it to open sections of the world that have been blocked off by transparent blue barriers. In fact, the player could wind up waiting dozens of minutes for the sun or the moon to line up properly to unlock these barriers thanks to the in-game day/night time clock. Why can’t I just hit the X button to unlock the door? Why do I have to wait 10 minutes for the stupid moon to line up perpendicular to the door I need access too? And why does the game never explain the linking fingertip accessory and how door orbs need to be destroyed with it? The player has to randomly figure out all this stuff out. Some things are just way more tedious than they need to be.
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There are also some technical issues I encountered on more than one occasion. A few times my controls locked up and had to either intentionally get killed or restart completely. Also, be careful when falling off ledges as respawning sometimes can put you back over the ledge. The world itself is also big but lacks interactivity. For a game that solves all its problems by punching everything in the face, it is disappointing not being able to punch through walls, tables, or crates to find secrets and hidden items. The only things you can interact with are the other creatures inhabiting this crazy world.
Zeno Clash II uses a leveling up system reminiscent of an RPG but not in a way you might expect. It does not matter how many enemies you kill. Instead, you only grow stronger by traveling off the beaten path to discover totem poles. Most totems grant one skill point which can be distributed over five different categories and can easily be missed. But these poles are few and far between making the game a constant challenge; even the common enemy will put up a decent fight. In most cases, it is easier to just sprint passed enemies to save the trouble of difficult combat. With a game that is based around combat, it is not a good sign when you want to bypass as many enemies as possible.
There is a two-player mode but it isn’t typical. Having another player join your game will make combat more difficult by adding more enemies. Co-op is an option but it actually might be better to go it alone. Stranger yet is how the companion AI system works. During your travels, characters can join you as long as your Leadership skill is high enough and you have space in your inventory for them. However, these co-op buddies will not help you in everyday combat like in Fallout 3 or Skyrim. Instead, these partners can join you only in bigger battles, usually during boss fights, but only if they are not wounded from the previous battle. Like the aesthetics of the rest of the game, the co-op play is also bizarre. And scores only get posted to the online leaderboard when the game is completed.
The soundtrack mimics the absurd visuals. Characters are voiced through cutscenes but are acted poorly and everything looks ok from afar but looks pretty terrible when viewed up close. Textures line up like two pieces of off-centered wallpaper on portions of the environment – just walk up to any random bush or tree. Some stages are more open than others but the complete lack of interactivity just makes most of the game feel empty and useless. Collecting colored (but non-animated) moths gives the player incentive to explore corners of the environment but the lack of a jump or climbing feature makes the entire game linear with tedious backtracking. However, if you want to grow stronger the player must monotonously scavenge each stage for totems; it is a bit contradicting.
Zeno Clash II falls short of hitting the mark. The intriguing setting populated with these vile creatures creates an unforgettable experience that relies on fighting mechanics and items that are too simple, repetitive and difficult to grasp. This bizarre world is just begging to be explored but the linear nature of the gameplay, lack of exploratory abilities such as a jump button, and tedious ways to unlock doors hinder the entire experience. Zeno Clash II is basically a playable nightmarish fever dream that will stay with you after you wake up but won’t be able to find any purpose behind it.
Also Try: Teleroboxer (Virtual Boy)
Better Than: going to the Island of Dr. Monroe
Wash Out The Taste With: The Legend of Zelda: OoT
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com