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In the vast expanse of outer space, there exists a star system known as Sanzaru. Within the Sanzaru star system, and under the control of the ruthless Zodiac organization, its worlds have descended into chaos and oppression.
But there is hope – one lone hero rises to challenge Zodiac’s dominion: Kyuu, pilot of the phenomenal Ex-Zodiac spacecraft. As you embark on a thrilling rail shooter journey through 6 stunning galaxies, you'll turn the tide in your favor against overwhelming odds.
From the moment you start playing EX-Zodiac, by indie developer MNKY, you'll raise your eyebrows and smirk to yourself, "Hmm, I think I've played this one before." And to no one's surprise, you probably have. EX-Zodiac pays tribute to Nintendo's Star Fox and it does it in a grand way. With crisp graphics, blazing-fast gameplay, and sound effects so identical to the original, you'd swear someone snuck a SNES console inside your PC.
From the get-go, it’s clear that no two levels are the same. As you fight your way through each level, waves of enemy ships threaten to take you down. But with quick reflexes and strategic thinking, you use your weapons, missiles, and smart bombs to take them down one by one. And just when things start to feel a bit too easy, a boss battle awaits at the end of each level – presenting an even greater challenge.
These bosses, ranging from massive robots to unknown extraterrestrial beings, will test every skill you possess as a player. With six levels available at launch and plans for twelve more in future updates, there is plenty of gameplay to keep you entertained. But each level brings forth new challenges and opportunities for growth as a player, creating an immersive and addicting experience as you dive into this fast-paced world where every second counts, and victory is all but guaranteed.
In an industry saturated with hyper-realistic graphics, EX-Zodiac stands out for its retro appeal. The colors are lush and vibrant, reminiscent of the games during the 16-bit era. Yet, this game is not simply a case of going for the nostalgic aesthetic, but creating the attention to detail in each pixel so clearly that it creates a carefully crafted world all its own.
Like the original Star Fox, the ship models, both yours and the enemies, are animated smoothly, and the background art is rich and imaginative with rolling mountains, snow-covered landscapes, and asteroids that break into pieces when fired upon. EX-Zodiac’s graphics may harken back to the glory days of the past, but they also show a mastery of form and function that elevates them beyond mere nostalgia.
The end-level bosses are imaginatively created and each has its own strengths and vulnerabilities. Exploiting where each of the weak spots is and how to attack them becomes the challenge. But once you become accustomed to where their weaknesses are, you'll have no problems taking them head-on.
In a time often fixated on pushing technology to its limits, it is refreshing to see a developer embrace simplicity and style with such finesse and deliberate pacing that it genuinely proves that sometimes less truly is more.
When you have the sound cranked up high, the sound elements truly add to the immersive experience. The soundtrack is booming with bass that perfectly complements the action on screen, and each sound effect is precise and impactful. It almost feels as if a full orchestra is playing in sync with the player’s actions.
But it’s not just about sheer volume or quantity either, the sound design also adds nuance to the game world and its characters. The subtle rumble of your ship's engine as it goes into hyperspeed mode, the unsettling screech of a monster, or the triumphant blast of a powerful weapon all enhance the atmosphere and bring greater depth to the gameplay. The game's implementation of sound, music and sound effects showcases the developer's masterful level of attention.
As good as the sounds are, the controls in EX-Zodiac truly enhance the gaming experience. The tight, responsive, and intuitive motions allow for smooth movement of your ship, making you feel like a real pilot. What’s more, the addition of true mouse support adds another level of precision and accuracy, allowing for more precise movements and attacks. I actually did better using the mouse, so kudos to the developer for making this happen.
Each button serves its purpose effectively without feeling cluttered or overwhelming, elevating gameplay to new heights. Performing barrel rolls in the original Star Fox was difficult for me to do as a kid, but it's simple enough here with a simple press of a button. It’s clear that a lot of care and thought was put into creating these controls, ultimately creating an immersive and enjoyable gaming experience.
While EX-Zodiac may have sparked excitement for its futuristic, fast-paced gameplay and stunning graphics, it falls short in a few key areas. The biggest issue lies with the enemy’s uncanny accuracy. For example, no matter where you are on the screen, the enemy always seems to have laser aim, making it difficult to find any safe haven. to avoid their attacks. There are also Space Harrier-type bonus stages thrown in between levels, but those seem to feel out of place in the grand context of the game.
This becomes especially frustrating when combined with the breakneck speed of the game as trying to aim amidst all of the chaos is a very challenging feat. Another caveat to consider is that the game, like many others in this niche, is relatively on the short side and once you've played the game all the way through, there's a very little enticement to do it again.
While the game may offer impressive visuals and satisfying moments of victory, it’s ultimately hindered by these minor flaws. Keep in mind that the game is still in Early Access, so a lot of things can change or be added between now and its official release.
Overall, I really enjoyed my flight time with the game. EX-Zodiac is a nostalgic joyride back to the golden age of arcade gaming, especially for those who are big fans of Star Fox or just enjoy rail shooters in general. With its retro graphics and familiar gameplay mechanics, the game is a perfect example of how to do things right as it manages to capture the spirit of classic titles while offering new challenges to test players’ skills.
Despite its minor shortcomings, and I really do mean minor, EX-Zodiac remains a fun and exhilarating experience that anyone looking for some old-school arcade action would do well to give this game a try.
At the end of the day, it may not bring any major innovations to the gaming industry, but it delivers pure entertainment in spades. It's also very refreshing to know that in a time where big-budget blockbusters dominate the market, sometimes all we need is a simple indie game that allows us to relive our past experiences and just have a blast and that’s exactly what EX-Zodiac provides.
You can purchase the game on Steam for $9.99
As I wrote, the game is still in Early Access, so a lot of additional content will be available when it is officially released. My review was based on the current game build.
As I was playing Ex-Zodiac, someone walked up behind me and asked, "How'd you get Star Fox to play on your PC?"
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Healthcare Professional, Gamer, and Writer all rolled up in one. He once opened up an old Atari 2600 to see if it had a heart ... and it did. Hence, the lifelong love affair with gaming.
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