Friday, November 17, 2006

Anubis Zone of the Enders Special Edition

Anubis Zone of Enders Special Edition
Action - PS2
Memory Card - 5 save slots
1-2 player

I've never played the first ZOE. But maybe that's a good thing, because no one really talked about it aside from the MGS2 demo bundled with it. That all changed with ZOE2. I'm not sure what Kojima changed in the sequel, but people began to take notice. I had the chance to finally play through Anubis ZOE Special Edition. Anubis ZOE is the Japanese name of the title (US: ZOE the 2nd Runner), and the Special Edition refers to the bonus content, extra difficulty levels, extra missions, versus mode, etc that was added to the budget rerelease. This is one cool game! But being a cool game and being a good game are totally different things.

Anubis has some of the slickest visuals I've seen in a game. The CG mecha cut scenes are action-packed and meticulously directed. The actual game visuals are no less impressive, with explosions, laser showers and enemies surrounding you. The craziest weapon in the game forms in real-time around your mecha as you charge it for 20 or so seconds. Everything oozes style.

The actual game ain't too shabby either. It's advertised as high speed mecha action, and that's exactly what it is. You have full freedom to fly in any direction - left analog to position, R2 to dash/fly, and ascend/descend buttons. The controls are fluid and very intuitive. There is a lock-on cursor that directs your attacks to specific enemies, so that your camera is directed toward where the enemies are. This is extremely helpful because fast moving enemies will fly all over the place and you need to be able to locate them quickly if you're taking them down. You're also able to grab objects in the environment - sometimes even enemies - and use them as shields or weapons! It's all very cool. Boss battles play out in clever fashion. Most of them require deciphering patterns and figuring out weaknesses. This is just the way I love my boss fights.

With all these things going for it, what went wrong?

It all comes down to the core of the gameplay. It really isn't particularly interesting. Maybe it's because I haven't played too many 3D action games, but I can't help comparing ZOE2 to Ninja Gaiden Black. I get a similar vibe from both of them. Problem is, ZOE2 is vastly inferior. The action in Anubis is limited mostly to a single attack button. There is a sub-weapon button too, but those aren't usually used in conjunction with your main attack. For ranged combat, your choices are a homing laser or a energy shot. For melee combat, you have a sword that's good for a combo consisting of button mashing the attack button 4x. The gameplay is too simple for its own good. In fact, there's not a whole lot to do in the game aside from button-mash the attack & dash buttons all the way through.

Some other irritations come with the camera. Because of the lock-on system, your camera is always centered on an enemy. It's helpful when you're actively unleashing an offensive attack to kill an enemy. But there were instances where I wished to have my free camera back so I could avoid flying into traps. There are some parts of game where you could get killed by the environment. But if your camera is locked in on an enemy, you're not able to fly correctly. That is, your controller motions only navigate your mech with respect to your enemy. Not with respect to your physical coordinates, so while taking down an enemy, you could end up being crushed by enclosing walls and not see it coming. Another annoyance is when you first start playing the game, there are cut scenes every 10 seconds. I like cut scenes and all but come on! Let me play the game! These little issues aren't game-breakers. Just annoyances.

Still, Anubis Zone of Enders is a well-executed game overall. My main concern is the gameplay isn't all that great. With the lack of depth in the action, there isn't much to do but push the same two buttons over and over again. The bosses are definitely the highlight of the game. I thoroughly enjoyed those battles, and am curious to see how things change on higher difficulties. But even fun boss fights and nice visuals can't save Anubis from being a (well-executed) mediocre experience.