Zheros, which was previously made available for free through Games With Gold, has been installed on my Xbox One for a while now, but I hadn’t actually played it. What kept me away was the character design, mostly, and I’ll get to that. But that’s just me; I couldn’t help but wonder why no one else on staff had played the game. The description sounded good. The graphics looked interesting. It was a mystery, and I hoped that through playing the game I’d be able to solve it.
Zheros is a 3D beat-em-up, but it plays more like a 2D title. One or two players control commandos fighting off an alien threat on a distant planet. Your goal is to reach the end of each level, fighting off aliens as you go. You have weak and heavy melee attacks, a shield, and a gun. The levels are generally pretty linear, with narrow paths and few navigation choices.
There are plenty of collectibles to find too, including experience to increase your skills, ammo for your gun, and health. It doesn’t get much more complex than that really. There is a combo system, but I never found much reason to use it. Still, it’s nice that they did more than the bare minimum mechanics. Simplicity can be appealing, but the addition of the guns and shields makes things feel more complete.
I have to admit that I didn’t think the graphics would be as competent, based on the “cover” artwork. It’s not that it’s badly drawn or anything; the issue is the character design. There’s nothing appealing about the appearance of the main character, Mike, and his partner’s design is forgettable.
I almost wonder if Mike’s distended chin is why nobody volunteered for this one; it’s definitely a factor in why I hadn’t played it before now. But despite the character designs, the graphics are actually quite good. The game has a neon-themed style similar to that of Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, and while it isn’t unique, it is appealing.
So, Zheros has a decent foundation to start with. Unfortunately, though, that’s about as far as it goes. After the first hour or so, I found myself dreading how many levels appeared to be left. Because even though the game is more than competent, it does little to make you actually care. The plot is basic, and while it gets a few chuckles, it’s not the most entertaining. The level and enemy designs are appealing at first, but they don’t really go anywhere.
With a greater focus on indie titles, distribution platforms like Steam, and brand new avenues of gaming like virtual reality, it’s harder than ever for a game to stand out. And Zheros, frankly, doesn’t stand out nearly enough. It is fun, and pretty well made for such a small studio, but that’s about all I can say. There are so many other games where your time would be better spent.
I could go on, and talk about how many levels there are and what kind of enemies you’ll face, but there’s not much of a point. If you got Zheros for free via Games With Gold like I did, you might want to give it a try and see if it speaks to you. Beyond that, I’d recommend sticking with something else. There are a lot of beat-em-ups out there, both old and new, and most of them are more interesting than this one. As an Xbox One owner you might consider picking up Rare Replay; its two Battletoads games are better bets. Either way, while Zheros isn’t a bad game by any stretch, I ultimately have to recommend seeking out something worth a bit more.
Not quite hero, not quite zero
Graphics - 8/10
Design - 5/10
Gameplay - 6/10
+ Environments have a cool graphical style
+ Solid controls
- Not much variety
- Bad character design