One ring to rule them all
Zenith makes it’s way to Nintendo Switch with a comedic take on the classic era of RPG’s. Developed by Infinigon and originally released on PC, PS4 and Xbox in 2016, Zenith takes classic tropes and cliche’s from popular games and movies like Lord of the Rings and Frozen all the way to Resident Evil and Final Fantasy but is this a perfect mix of fun and humour or a bad joke that needs to be forgotten? Let’s take a look.
Zenith puts you in control of Argus Windell, an Arcanologist (Sorcerer to you and me) who has had his fill of adventure and chooses to settle down for a more relaxed life. In typical form his retirement is short-lived and he soon finds himself sucked into a fresh adventure full of monsters, magic, singing spiders, spikey hair cuts, oversized swords and various coloured potions, most of which will be kept for that time when he really might need to use it but likely to just get annoyed with them taking up space in the travel bag.
The first thing that stands out is the humour
Action RPG’s are renowned for being some of the most engrossing and beloved games of the modern-day, whether it’s Diablo, The Witcher or Balders Gate, gamers of all ages get drawn into these amazing worlds. Much like classic movies, they inspire as much as they create and with that comes certain stereotypical quirks. Whether it’s an arrow to the knee or a sword that defies the laws of physics especially for the scrawny looking surfer dude wielding it, we all suspend belief in the name of high fantasy. Zenith comes along and takes a genuinely amusing pop at all these memorable moments with dialogue and quest designs that entertain throughout the campaign.
Comedy is a tricky thing to get right, especially in the modern era, do you ruin certain scenes with too many forced gags like Marvel and Disney? or do you hold back and risk becoming too sombre? Luckily the shining star in Zenith is the superb writing, the story itself may not be anything groundbreaking as far as end of the world scenarios go, but the dialogue and jokes that weave their way throughout keep things moving along at a decent pace.
You will need a sense of humour if you are to stick with Zeniths campaign until the end, as sadly not all the jokes are intentional. Taking the form of an action RPG you will find yourself adventuring through various lands and dungeons, fighting all manner of creatures and interacting with allies along the way. At first, the combat seems capable enough, the primary attack can be performed with the B button, blocking with ZR, dodge with A while magic and ranged attacks can be assigned to X and Y. Various powers can be collected and swapped out on the fly as can clothing items and trinkets that will affect your overall stats which adds a small sense of the RPG criteria hinted at in the description. You will also earn experience to level up certain abilities from elemental resistance to quicker mana regen, which are not really necessary as the game’s only challenging aspect is its own gameplay.
It has issues
The main problem comes with the jerky hit detection and lack of lock-on for ranged attacks. Trying to get Argus facing a particular enemy with enough accuracy to cast a spell or throw a weapon effectively is more hassle than it’s worth when facing groups of enemies, reducing any tactical advantage it could provide to a bare minimum, meaning most encounters will consist of mashing B and battering each enemy to death with your sword regardless of what powers you have access to. Dodge roll comes in handy but also comes with its own issues of not being the most precise, on occasion Argus would just roll in any old direction or towards and enemy and straight into an attack which just became annoying.
Camera angles are fixed and the position can range depending on your location. When out in the wider landscapes the game favours a more traditional asymmetric angle whereas dungeons and more close-quarters area’s have a somewhat side-scrolling view. For the most part, these angles tend to suit their respective area’s but on occasion foliage and scenery can get in the way cutting off any view of your character, it would have been nice to have scenery turn transparent in these cases to avoid frustration. Graphics are decent enough but nothing that will blow you away.
Now credit where it’s due, Zenith is an indie title and the character models and scenery are by no means terrible but with a more basic pallet, I was surprised at how badly the game chugged along. Right from the start, Zenith felt laggy and stuttered like it was always struggling to load the area’s I was in, this effect was evident in both docked and handheld mode. Loading screens were also a common occurrence and outstayed their welcome. The music was also a mixed bag, the main tune which features regularly throughout is a real treat and is full of classic adventure and comedy vibes but soon feels out of place when an over the top, heavy metal riff kicks in during boss fights. Although the characters are not voiced there are certain voice effects in places reminiscent of the old Lego games that relied on basic noises before becoming fully voiced.
Like all good parodies, Zenith’s humour has been done in good taste. Like Naked Gun, Hot Shot’s and Scary Movie, there is respect and fondness for the source material in every gag and this alone is the star of the experience. Sadly with the gameplay hinting at so much but delivering little more than a button masher Zenith falls flat of it’s potential. If the combat and RPG elements were given as much attention as the writing then this could have been something truly special. If you are a bit RPG fan and want something a bit more lighthearted it’s worth picking up if you see it in a sale but for the full price, there are better options.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Nintendo, PS4, Xbox
Release Date: 20/09/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Action, Role-Playing
Publisher: BadLand Publishing
Download link: eShop