Review: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars


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Zone of the Enders is a mesmerizing series, and I will never forget the first time I saw it in a magazine. The publication referred to it as “ZOE,” which became a running joke with my friends as we attempted to create acronyms for every other game at the time. “Ring of Red? More like ROR!”

What does this have to do with the review for Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars? Nothing.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner - Mars review

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars (PC, PS4 [reviewed with a PS4 Pro])
Developer: Konami, Cygames
Publisher: Konami
Released: September 6, 2018
MSRP: $29.99

Okay people let’s get up to speed, because this one is going to be a little niche for some.

In 2001 Konami released the original Zone of the Enders, known to some as “the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo disc with a free game” due to a special promotion at the time. I was one of the few who was into the idea of both, and enjoyed the roughly five-hour romp through the mech-driven world of the 22nd century with the robot frame Jehuty. Two years later The 2nd Runner came along and greatly expanded the original universe, while adding several layers on top of the complexity of the combat system. Mars is a punched-up version of that same game on PS4.

To be perfectly clear: you do not need to play the first Zone of the Enders to pick this one up, both narratively and mechanically. There’s several references that original fans might get but they’re few and far between. 2nd Runner goes out of its way to keep the conflict driven by a hatred between two individuals — the protagonist Dingo and the mustache-twirling Nohman.

It doesn’t expand much beyond that but you also won’t need to keep track of confusing plotlines or clandestine organizations. 2nd Runner is presented with the occasional anime cutscene because Konami tried to give the game an anime heart. Not being able to swap to Japanese vocals is a bummer (so many games are dual audio these days and it’s great), but with some exceptions (mostly Vic Viper and some dry dialogue peppered throughout), the English dub is fine.

2nd Runner was gorgeous in 2003 and it looks fantastic now. In my experience running on a PS4 Pro, Mars operates at a stable framerate with the occasional stuttering during cutscenes — which is a deliberate choice (you know, that Kojima shockwave effect). The timeless cel-shading (the original development team called it a “quasi-toon-shade”) helped future-proof it.

Zone of the Enders 2 looks complicated but it really isn’t, at least on the surface. There’s fundamentally one attack button (that swaps to long-range lasers or a melee sword depending on your range), a super attack modifier that lets you throw a spirit bomb or perform a spin slash, a grab, and…subweapons (which have a newer, easier swapping system). That’s it. Most of the work lies in positioning and awareness as you dash through closed tunnels and plenty of sprawling open warzones.

The real fun of Zone of the Enders is found in the dance of dashing. It’s super stylish and fun to play, as the variety of mech animations spice up moment-to-moment gameplay (you even skate when you hit the ground). If you happen to sport two left feet during this dance you’re going to get jacked up. Enemies can dish it out: I’m talking a quarter of your life with one combo or charged-up beam attack on normal. Again, the concept of far and near maneuvers is easy to grasp, but the real puzzle is picking up on the nuances of each enemy type. Mummyheads are effective from afar but collapse under the weight of your sword. Raptors block often but can be blown away by a spin slash or a guard-breaking subweapon: that sort of thing.

This all translates to the returning versus mode, which is strictly a 1v1 affair but supports both another player or a bot (!). Remember when games had bots because matchmaking or even basic online play wasn’t a thing? A lot of modern publishers abandon ship or call “end of life” status on their projects as early as a year in, so having that ability to play with bots is a lifesaver years down the road when I want to revisit something.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner - Mars review

The only true extra (beyond the reworked visual style) is VR support, which isn’t necessarily exclusive to the PS4 as the PC edition has concessions for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. I was shocked when I first put on the headset and continued a save file several levels in when I realized that it actually does just…work. If you want you can experience pretty much all of 2nd Runner in VR.

It really does feel like a different game, for better or worse. Seeing enemy mechs up close allows you to appreciate the minute details therein, and ADA’s (your system AI) call-outs feel more helpful when the hectic state of VR is in effect. By virtue of playing in VR, Zone of the Enders does lose a lot of panache. Abilities don’t feel as impactful and the sword isn’t visible enough. There’s a handy holographic rendition of Jehuty you can view out of the corner of your eye if you get utterly confused, but it doesn’t help that range (a key aspect of Zone of the Enders) is harder to judge in VR.

Just to be clear the cutscenes are not in a VR format: they’re presented theatrically with a letterbox. I also had one crash while playing with the headset on, which resulted in 15 minutes of lost progress (manually save often, kids! I typically did during this review but lost track of time in the VR space). Those annoyances aside it’s worth at least one playthrough if you have the hardware, and best of all: completely optional.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars may have flown under the radar in 2003 but it now has the chance to shine again 15 years later. Just know that the budget price reflects the fact that not a whole lot has been added: so if you didn’t like it then you won’t suddenly be smitten.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Chris Carter
Managing Editor - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!