From the opening cut scene, watching the bad guy Dr. Vendetta cackle over a menacing control panel, it’s evident that ZHEROS, by developer Rimlight Studios, is trying to do something classic. And it is classic, with a comic book feel turned 3D, the simplest of storylines, and a typical beat ‘em up style. ZHEROS isn’t trying to push any envelopes, and it certainly achieved its goal.
You play as one of two Zheros (or three, in the DLC The Forgotten Land) barreling their way through 18 levels of robots to defeat the cackling, big-hatted, yellow-toothed Dr. Vendetta and his army. Seeing the characters – one a huge, muscly blonde and the other a thin, wiry redhead – you might expect a different type of gameplay from each of them. I didn’t find that to be the case – or at least, not enough to make it interesting. Upon seeing the new character in the DLC, who can fly and cast spells, I was disappointed again that the gameplay didn’t reflect the diversity of the characters. The flying functioned just like running – it just looks a little cooler – and the spells functioned exactly like the other characters’ power attacks. An opportunity wasted.
In classic beat ‘em up fashion, each level increases in difficulty and tosses in a new type of bad guy, with an introductory cut screen so you can take in your new opponent. New robot enemies achieve what they’re supposed to – they challenge you to use your combos and power attacks in different ways, as each bad guy has a different weakness and strength. That’s exciting to see in a beat ‘em up, so you don’t get swept up in button mashing, and you actually have to think about what you’re doing and who you’re fighting. The focus is certainly on the robots; the setup of the levels themselves can start to feel as monotonous as the characters, a series of paths that start to look grindingly familiar after ten or so levels.
As for the combat itself, I didn’t find anything very impressive. As I said, ZHEROS isn’t doing anything innovative, and the DLC doesn’t change that either. Some of the boss fights I found a little too frustrating, and I have a couple issues with combat in general; for instance, getting knocked to the ground can sometimes be a death sentence, as you can still take a lot of damage once you’ve fallen over, which isn’t the case when the robots get knocked down.
While I appreciate a game going back to the basics, there is such a thing as too basic. I would have liked to see ZHEROS + The Forgotten Land push its players a little further and not fall back on the beat ‘em up genre as something that doesn’t have to be challenged or innovated. I give this game a 7 out of 10.
ZHEROS is available for PS4, Xbox One and PC on Steam.