December 3, 2022

Fulfilling Your '90s Arcade Fantasy - Ex-Zodiac Steam Review

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Fulfilling Your '90s Arcade Fantasy - Ex-Zodiac Steam Review

By Nick | December 3, 2022

Ex-Zodiac can be called many names. You can call it StarFox 2.0 or StarFox Rehashed. But whatever you decide, this space opera of a roller coaster ride grabs you from the opening blast-off and doesn't let go.

Developed by indie game studio PixelJam, Ex-Zodiac is a rail shooter heavily inspired by the classic games of the early '90s. So when I had the opportunity to try it, my first thought was, "Will it be better than StarFox? Well, the answer is an unequivocal "Yes!" for a variety of reasons I'll explain below.

A fast-paced low-poly 3D rail shooter heavily inspired by classics of the early 90's.

A Shooter's Paradise

By all accounts, Ex-Zodiac would easily be classified as a traditional shooter, but it is also apparent that PixelJam is committed to not only creating good-looking and good-playing games, but they have also given the extra effort to create an interesting storyline with a plot you can immerse yourself in.

The player assumes the role of Kyuu, an ace pilot fighting to free the worlds of the Sanzaru Star System from the intergalactic terrorist organization known as Zodiac.

As Kyuu, you must negotiate through six (6) main levels of mayhem and an additional six bonus levels while keeping your eyes on all sorts of obstacles and enemy fighters that zoom by you at a blistering pace. Although the characters provide an interesting twist and give some depth to the game's storyline, they aren't the primary focus.

Controls are perhaps, the best part of the game now that mouse functionality has been implemented. Using the standard controller is fine, but the aiming and maneuvering felt more precise and accurate with the mouse which is critical because it enables you to pull off the tight, white-knuckle moves you'll need to survive. Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with using a controller, but for games like this that require quick reflexes, the mouse wins hands down.

A fast-paced low-poly 3D rail shooter heavily inspired by classics of the early 90's.

Something Old. Something New

As you can see by the screenshots, the gameplay is very reminiscent of the classic SNES title but with up-to-date graphics that take advantage of today's hardware. Players zip through space in third-person view, dodging and shooting enemies as they go. The levels are short but fast-paced with a heavy emphasis on arcade-style action.

Like StarFox, Ex-Zodiac's level design consists of choosing a planet and then completing the four to five levels within them. At the end of each level, you'll face the obligatory boss that will give even experienced players a run for their money. Thankfully, your ship is equipped with unlimited blaster shots and a limited supply of smart missiles that can take down even the toughest of foes.

With various power-up opportunities offered throughout each level, you can acquire a host of weapon upgrades and enhancements, like shields and smart bombs that can make your ship virtually invincible for a short time, so collecting these power-ups becomes a top priority, especially in later areas as enemy bosses become increasingly more powerful and can take more damage to defeat.

With that being said, it's always a good idea to be as close to full health as possible before taking on these bad boys or they will make quick work of you. While the bosses can be downright tough, they are predictable, but once you've memorized their distinct patterns, you should be able to bring them to their knees without losing too many lives.

A fast-paced low-poly 3D rail shooter heavily inspired by classics of the early 90's.

Furball

While Zodiac is a finely crafted machine on the outside, it doesn't escape the fray without a few hairballs on its fur. My biggest gripe is that enemies have a tendency to hit you even when they appear to be out of sight.

For example, when an enemy zooms by and fires a shot at you, it's not very clear if you'll be tagged or not so you maneuver out of the way, then without reason, the shot curves into your space at the last moment and hits you, making surviving harder, and more frustrating, than it should be.

The second issue I have, and this is just a minor one, is a few of the soundtrack doesn't add a whole lot of immersion to the action on screen. When I'm out there fighting off a swarm of enemies, I want my music to be upbeat and thumping as the adrenaline rushes from my brain to my fingers. I know many will say that the music and sound effects are fine, but for me, it felt rather subdued.

Fulfilling Your '90s Arcade Fantasy - Ex-Zodiac Steam Review

A Star is (Re)Born

All in all, however, and despite my pet peeves, Ex-Zodiac is a fantastic game because it strikes a harmonious balance between style and substance and it also plays an important role because it advances an old gameplay premise into a state-of-the-art playable version of the original.

Usually, when new game remakes or updates are being created, it takes developers a few attempts before they fully maximize their potential, and rarely, does that game becomes a hit on the first try.

With Ex-Zodiac, however, PixelJam has gotten it right the first time and with awesome results. From gorgeous retro stylized graphics to rock-solid gameplay, Ex-Zodiac has what it takes to make it a bonafide winner.


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