Bienvenidos! That means "Welcome!" in Spanish, you know. I just got back from a quick jaunt over to Paraguay for business. The locals are so quaint -- real salt of the earth people, you just have
to go sometime.
Aaaaanyway, when I wasn't out looking for undervalued land to invest in or chasing away children trying to sell me handmade twine bracelets, I just couldn't keep my hands off my new toy. Have I shown you? It's the iPhone 3GS 32GB. Oh, you only have the 3G? Well, you just have
It's perfect for listening to all the latest independent music I read about on the internet. I just detest mainstream music. It's so . . . (sipping a Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiato) . . . corporate
Aaaaaanyway, I'm trying to keep up with the 15-to-30 demographic these days, and that means learning about video games. Well, the talk around the water-cooler is that "retro" is the latest big buzzword. So, when I was surfing the app store for the latest, what's the term they use? Oh yes! "leet
". I came across a delightful little leet retro title called Zenonia! Sit down and have a bite of this whole-grain cranberry walnut muffin and I'll tell you alllllllll about it!
Zenonia (iPhone) Developer: Gamevil Publisher: Gamevil Cost : $2.99 Story and Presentation
Zenonia is the story of an enterprising young boy named Regret (how postmodern!), who discovers that he has the seed of chaos inside of him and must struggle against his demon nature. He ultimately must choose whether to fight on the side of the Holy Knights or the Dragon Clan to determine the ultimate fate of the world. Quite thrilling.
When I showed Zenonia to the barista to see what the service-industry demographic thought about the game, he got very excited. He said it reminded him of one of his favorite games from childhood, The Legend Of Zorba. Apparently, Zorba was a very popular game that put what he called "action RPGs" on the map.
Well, I found Zenonia to be absolutely charming. Not only did it evoke the look and feel of an old action RPG, but it also managed to have a wonderful sense of humor about the whole affair. The developers included a lot of self-deprecation and poked fun at the common tropes of the genre, which made the retro gameplay and cookie-cutter story work.
One side quest began by a villager stating "I know I'm just an NPC, but will you help me?". A tip on the one of the loading screens said "Too much gaming time will ruin your social life." Just priceless! Breaking the fourth wall is so now
Gameplay -- Touch Controls
Now, I have very delicate hands, so the touch controls were of the utmost concern to me. I simply can't be bothered to get a manicure every time I play a game. Luckily, Zenonia controlled better than my new BMW Z3. The D-pad was large and responsive, and once I got used to the handling, I had Regret speeding through the landscape. Also, the attack button worked perfectly, I never had to go searching for it like I do for a waiter at the Four Seasons.
Unfortunately, my discriminating nature simply wouldn't let me finish without mentioning the skill and item slots at the bottom of the screen. They were much smaller and more difficult to activate, which I found to be very
Oh, I DO wish they would come out with a hybrid model. Gameplay -- Classes and Skills
As a modern go-getter, I simply cannot be boxed in to just one style of gameplay. In an update to the old RPG formula, Zenonia offers 3 different classes to chose from, each with their own strengths and skill trees to upgrade.
Skill trees for all 3 classes offer both active abilities and passive (like Frank in Marketing) boosts, so there's a great deal of customization available. This helps keep the tedium of level grinding to a minimum. The one drawback, however, is that the touch controls for the skill slots reduces your ability to use them effectively in battle.
If you're looking for some insider info, I found that focusing on passive buffs (skills, not what my staff does to the car) allows you to focus more fully on combat. Level up maybe one or two really useful active skills and you'll be bounding up the experience ladder in no time.
Gameplay -- Combat
The responsiveness of the touch controls makes combat an enjoyable affair, simple yet robust like a '96 Napa Valley Cabernet. A wonderful upgrade to the old Zorba combat system automatically reorients you to attack the nearest enemy, even if you aren't facing them. This mitigates any mistakes you might make in working with the touch controls.
You really MUST take this game out for a spin. Gameplay -- Mission Design
Playing through Zenonia is much like reading a Dostoyevsky novel. You appreciate it for what it is and how it must have been revolutionary for its time, but it can become rather tedious in spots. Level grinding is a must to advance through the story, and side quests offer little in the way of story motivation to complete them.
Just like in sports and business, if you want to be at the top of the game it pays to have a little help to put you over the top. Something to enhance your performance. You will find plenty of weapons, armor, and items to keep your character current, so don't waste your gold on equipment in the towns. Instead, discreetly
visit a NPC named "Item Gal" who, for a reasonable fee, will give you a potion to boost your experience gain from each kill. Keep these fully stocked like I do my aged 18 yr. Glenlivet supply and you'll advance much more quickly.
Zenonia simply runs like a dream. Loading times are minimal, and frame-rate hiccups were nearly non-existent. The game was patched since its release to smooth out any problems that were present at its release.
The patch also provides the ability to play your own music during the game, which is an added bonus for aggressive multi-taskers like myself. Now I can catch up on my indie music and experience excellent Zorba-style gameplay at the same time -- smashing!
I met Judge Judy at this benefit in Manhattan once. Delightful woman. . . The Verdict
Trust me, I know quality when I see it. Even with my penchant for power-levelling, Zenonia offered up a sumptuous 20 hrs. of gameplay. I chose to fight on the side of the Holy Knights, so there could easily be another 15-20 hrs. there for those who want to experience both story paths.
Slick presentation, ironic self-referential style, and responsive controls all made this game much more enjoyable than that atrocious Jackson Pollack retrospective I was forced to endure at the Metroplitan Museum of Art last weekend. At $2.99, this game packs more value than the foreclosed estate in the Hamptons I got at a steal when the market went bust. Any self-respecting gamer of distinction would do well to put it on their buy list.
Zenonia warrants a delicious 8 out of 10 servings of Brie cheese.
Care for a pomegranate smoothie to go? I insist.