Over the past couple of years, the Xbox 360 has had a healthy supply of titles for just about every genre... except role-playing and strategy games. And then recently, all of the sudden, the RPGs and SRPGs began to roll out. By now, the Xbox 360 has a few of these titles under its belt, thanks to Atlus. It's too bad that none of their Xbox 360 releases have seen the best reception so far.
We dive into the trenches to take a look at the next in line, Zoids Assault. Will this militaristic strategy title be a victory for Xbox 360 owning strategy game fans, or will it be lumped in with the other unloved SRPG releases for the console?
Hit the jump to read our review.
Zoids Assault (Xbox 360)
Developed by Takara Tomy
Published by Atlus
Released on September 9, 2008
Zoids Assault puts you in command of a unit of animal-like robots called Zoids. You and your Zoids work your way through numerous battles, playing out the retelling of a a series conflicts between the world's two largest military powers. This title is one of over a dozen videogames based on Takara Tomy's popular creature robot toy line. You wouldn't know that this gritty military strategy game was based on a line of toys when playing it, though.
I've never had a Zoids toy, but if they're colored anything like the beastly robots of Zoids Assault, I don't see how any child would play with them. Zoids Assault has to be the most dull-colored Xbox 360 title in existence. I've never seen so much brown and gray in a videogame. For a strategy RPG, visuals don't matter as much as text and numbers do, but this is an extreme case. Your characters look too similar to each other in color and shape. What's worse is that your Zoids are just about the same color as enemy Zoids, as well as the ground, trees, mountains and just about everything else. Brown on green-brown. Granted, you have the option of changing body colors in between rounds, but the selection of other colors are just as grungy and unappealing as the original color was to the eye.
That same lack of appeal seems to carry over into the game's presentation. Assault opens with still images of what is supposed to be something like overhead satellite imagery of some battle. The dialogue never really clues you into what is happening, and after some time, the screen goes white with static. Nice. You'll continue to be confused as some woman testifies before a large military group in a hall. This testimony is filled with technobabble that's hard to make out, and is peppered with names of countries that you're supposed to know of, but really have no idea about yet. All of this could be made palatable if it were set to video. Unfortunately, this boring dialogue is set to stills of drawings that are more fit for a deviantART page than a videogame. What's worse is that you'll have to sit through one of these trial segments before each battle, and they become increasingly confusing as the game goes on.
In battle, the presentation continues to lack any design sense. You'll move your units around the map, which works well enough. Following the movement of your enemy is a bit of challenge, though. The "camera" follows each enemy cursor movement, suddenly jumps back into its original position, and then follows an animation of the enemy movement. This is repetitive and unnecessary, not to mention very disorienting, especially when enemy forces are large in number. The battle animations are also very confusing. It took me about 4 sessions to totally understand what I was seeing, and even after that, I still lost track of who was who on occasion.
So the game play is better, right? It's the best aspect of Zoids Assault, but it's still sorely lacking. At the very core, the strategy system is sound. Your team of Zoids are dropped into preset maps, where you'll fend off the enemy using the typical SRPG grid-based system. Each of your Zoids have their own individual mobility and range stats, and you move each of them one at a time, with one-on-one skirmishes taking place after each move, if possible. Optimally, you'll take advantage of the "scan" system, which lets you take advantage of placement, letting your other Zoids attack at the same time if in range. This has you moving your Zoids as a group, working together, which is a nice change from your typical SRPG.
It's too bad that you're never really challenged, and so this game play system is never put to good use. Your enemy forces seemed to be programmed to pursue, group together and attack. After a couple of battles, this becomes apparent. And for all but a couple of special missions, you'll know exactly what to do to take the enemy out, which makes for pretty uninteresting gaming sessions. Difficulty would normally be ramped up by enemy intelligence, but in Zoids Assault, it seems that only enemy numbers and placement are increased or changed.
Between missions, you're whisked away to the SRPG standard equipment/planning screen, which is just as frustrating as the rest of the title is. Assault's designers put very little effort into working strategy into the equipment aspect of the game. Some of the fun of strategy games is choosing what weapon or armor would work best for the next battle, but in Assault, for most of the early battles, all you need to do is equip the item with the "new" icon next to it. This whole process would be totally mindless if it wasn't for the painfully laggy button response time in these menus. Later in the game, when you actually need to try to equip proper weapons, this becomes even more of a pain. You'd think that a game this simplistic would at least have faster button response time!
In the end Zoids Assault is a big mess of a strategy role-playing game, as it seems to fall short on just about every level. Fans of strategy games can easily overlook a lackluster presentation, but Zoids Assault also suffers a severe lack of appealing game play, making it hard to recommend to anyone.
Score: 4.0 (Poor. An admirable effort with a sliver of promise, but essentially mediocre.)
reviewed by Dale North