REVIEW: Zotrix

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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Zotrix Cover
Title Zotrix
Developer ZeroBit Games
Publisher UFO Interactive Games
Release Date December 8, 2015
Genre Retro Space Shooter
Platform Playstation 4
Age Rating Everyone, Mild Fantasy Violence
Official Website

Nostalgia. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary one of the primary definitions is:

A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.

That definition applies to Zotrix, both for the better, and for the worse. ZeroBit Games obviously has a lot of love for the arcade and Atari home console period of the early to mid 1980’s. And, as someone who also grew up during that period, I cannot blame them for that wistfulness. The question quickly becomes, however, would you really want to take games back to that period of time? Zotrix is a space shooter, but not really of the bullet-hell variety. Think of it as the child of Galaga and Asteroids that was tutored on Eve Online.

Zotrix | Galaga Screenshot

Asteroids never told you what happened to your father.

Where the game is most similar to Galaga and other top down space shooters of that era is both in its pixel art, and also in the patters of enemies flying on the screen. Some lines of enemies just follow a set path and others home in on the player’s ship. Some enemies just fly around, and others will fire at you. The formula is mixed up some by having large enemies that are a little different. Some of the larger enemies act as Aircraft Carriers, and then there are some bosses at the end of certain stages. In the story mode you don’t actually have to beat the bosses, though. You only have to survive until the stage comes to the end. Your reward for percentage of enemies killed will be affected, but you don’t really have to kill much of anything. You also can upgrade your primary weapons twice via an upgrade that floats out of the top of the screen at set intervals until you are at full strength.

Zotrix | Mission Reward

Sending me into enemy territory is a bad day, for them.

Where the game is most similar to Asteroids is that you are not stuck at the bottom of the screen. You are free to move around the full screen and to turn your ship and fire in any direction. You move with the left stick, and you turn your ship with the right stick. In that way the era of the twin stick shooter has influenced this classic formula. However, the old school sensibilities still apply here too. When you move your cannon moves in the opposite direction, also when you shoot your ship is pushed backwards to a significant degree. Now, certainly the conservation of momentum is a law of physics that makes a major impact in space travel. But that artistic choice to have it expressed in the game does spell quite a bit of annoyance for players. Realistically if there were no momentum counterthrust in your ship, you would fly backwards off the end of the screen due to the rate you fire. So some of that exists in their fictional universe, but the fact that they only provided enough to be an annoyance is a choice that may not make some players too happy. So the general strategy is to get your two weapon upgrades and then move into a corner so the momentum thrust will not alter your position and then just use the right stick to focus your fire similar to Asteroids. If enemy ships come up under you, just click the stick to get out of dodge and then come back after you kill the invaders to that corner.

Zotrix | Win Pose

Get used to this position. it’s the easiest route to victory.

Where the game is most similar to Eve Online is that you travel between space stations and you trade minerals for credits and for equipment. Some stations sell resources for more than other stations, but I never really had to bother much with that. What was a bit more of a concern was that certain stations would not buy or sell certain minerals, and they also had a wide variety of different equipment that they would sell. While this would be an annoyance in a game where you had to fight a stage of enemies every time you went to a new station, it is even more egregious here. Because not every station connects to another. You only have between three and five routes to choose from. So if you really want or need to get to a certain station, you have to pull up your map and plan the route that may include two or three station jumps.

Zotrix | Resource Trading

Yes, that is a market ticker in the middle. You have Wall Street in space.

The equipment purchasing section can be a bit intimidating and especially with their confusing message about what expendable and permanent upgrades mean. Permanent is fairly obvious in that it means you can equip it on your ship and it will always be there. Shields are considered expendable, but what that really means is that when a shield is destroyed within the stage, it just doesn’t come back the rest of the stage. But when you start the next stage, your shield will be back up again. The better shields, however, if you are not getting hit for a time, will regenerate within a stage. Likewise with drones, which are called expendable but they are only destroyed within a stage and will return next run. Bombs and missiles, however, are true expendables. Once you use them once, they are gone and you have to purchase them again. Basically, that meant I almost never purchased them.

Zotrix | Equipment Shop

You are better off just reading my explanation rather than theirs.

These options are all within the much more robust story mode. Arcade mode has upgrades between stages that you only have a couple selections and you use your accumulated score as credits. Story mode has a set of 40 missions that you receive small text bubbles giving you a bare bones plot. For someone that is hearkening back to that time period in gaming, a little story goes a long ways. We typically only had the small vestiges of story in our game manuals, if any at all. You do gain some rewards for completing the missions, but really the only reward that I cared about was PSN trophies earned. Thankfully this indie title was robust enough that it also has a Platinum trophy attached to it.

Zotrix | Trophy Achievement

Still using Naval Officer Ranks in this century.

Unfortunately they do a very poor job of conveying how to get into those quests. When you start story mode you are given four routes in which to go. One of them says in the description that it allows you to complete Quest #1. But all four list credit and resource rewards. So, me being a completionist, decided to save up story missions until I earned some upgrades. That was a monumental error on my part. I left that station to another, and when I got to that other station, none of the routes offered any quest completion. I played through more and more stages, but I could not get back to the place where a quest was offered. In fact, I ended up stranded on stations where the difficulty spiked horribly and none of my route options were less than a 6 difficulty. Worse, the Operations Progress window did little to clear up this confusion. Especially since the menu controls are very funky and the description of Quest #1 was barely visible. Finally I figured out by re-reading the last line of that quest where I needed to get back to. And I planned a route to get there. But that included going through a route that was Difficulty 8, out of a possible 10. It took me a few attempts, needless to say. Once I was able to figure out what I needed to do, I finally started to make progress until I finished them all. But that was nowhere near the last time that I had to station hop to get to the start of a quest.

Zotrix | Route Selection

This screen almost made me rage quit a few times.

While we are on the negatives, let’s discuss a few other issues. The translation onto PS4 did not go too well in a couple ways. The first way is that menu operation is frankly terrible. Navigating the menus and using the PlayStation controller for operations within them is an exercise in frustration. There are a lot of menus that you will need to navigate, and it was a consistently frustrating experience. You would think at some point you would get used to it. But wait until you try to purchase less than ten units of Palladium. Another huge source of frustration ties to the economy. There is a consistent bug where you lose credits at the end of missions in story mode. You will start a mission with over two million, and end the mission with five hundred thousand. And this is not based on damage received or anything else. I can get hit zero times in certain missions, and end up in the poor house. Worse, I looked at the Steam comments and this bug was a known issue back before it came to PS4. So to counter that, I had to spend even more time in the menus buying a lot of resources so that I could sell them later as a way of banking my money. Especially because new ships are between three and seven million credits. And since some stations don’t even buy or sell gold and palladium, it was beyond frustrating.

Zotrix | Equip Menu

Even this simple looking menu is built to frustrate with a controller.

Another serious issue is the technical competence of the PlayStation 4 port. You would never guess looking at this game, but no other title on the system has lagged out nearly as much as this game has for me. I have programmed enough to know that some devices are better built to handle polygons than pixels. However, that is not the case here. They do not push enough pixels to cause a system like the PS4 to chug like it does here. Realistically voxels should make the system cry much more than the pixels of this title, but there is no sign of that in Resogun. Most of the game you will not see much slowdown. But whenever there are enough enemies and bullets on the screen or when the large circular bosses are on the screen, you will see slowdown. In fact on certain stage bosses I was worried that it was going to crash my system. There was enough slowdown that it almost stopped entirely. The last issue I will mention is the sound design and music. The music is forgettable, but the sound design is pretty bad. The best that could be said for the sound of ships exploding is that it will probably make you hungry for popcorn.

Zotrix | Boss Slowdown

Is this a picture or a video? In this case interchangeable.

So am I going to blast this game and give it a horrible score? Well, not exactly. There are serious issues with it that I have addressed here. And honestly after the first day of playing, I was almost ready to give up and just give it a horrible review. But I do not want to be that kind of game reviewer. There is a reason why these individuals wanted to make a game of this type. And I wanted to find what they saw in it. So I kept at it. I struggled through all the annoyances. Eventually I found a groove where I was completing missions and using resources to stockpile credits which I was able to use to make the truly formidable ship that you see above. I was able to get into a similar groove that I was in when I played Galaga and Asteroids and similar games so many years before. I did finally find the fun. But it took a lot of work, and the developer got in my way almost as much as they offered it up. Really, even indie games do not often offer a game quite as retro as this one is, and it can be difficult to access a lot of the classics of our youth. So I would tentatively call this game nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. Younger gamers are unlikely to find much of interest here. But for some players, this may be just what they are looking for, and for the price of $14.99 you may decide that the price is right to give it a try for yourself.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided by the Publisher

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.