Considering how short Z-Warp is, you’d think it would have been easy for a quick turnaround when writing a review. Yes and no. The difficulty level felt way off without being offputting, so I gave myself a couple of extra days to give it a fair trial.
One of the many advantages of getting a game for review early is seeing yourself on the leaderboards. Only because there aren’t enough people playing it. However, now the game is out, all those names that were there at first have all been knocked off. Proof that reviewers aren’t necessarily the best when it comes to hi-scores.
You’d be in the minority if you were looking for a story in Z-Warp – there is one, but it’s nothing like I was expecting. In the news piece, I wrote about retrieving a black box for a cutting edge starship that disappears and then reappears, and you’re the crack pilot sent to collect it. I didn’t expect flying through organic locations, tackling acid reflux and brains. That’s not a bad thing, just a bit of a surprise.
As a vertical scroller, Z-Warp’s setup is simple, as are the controls. There are two firing modes and an indispensable recharging bomb. The varying firing modes include a standard spray-like pulse, but holding down on the button unleashes a powerful beam at the expense of mobility. It’s essential to get used to these simple mechanics as this is a tough game to master with zero shields (ish) and limited credits for replaying.
That bomb isn’t just vital for taking down enemies, but for neutralising the waves of attacks, you’ll have to endure. The boss sections define ‘bullet hell’. Seriously, there are so many situations in this game where there’s nowhere to hide – no evasive button or hiding under an asteroid, instead of relying on luck and mastering the bomb’s cooldown. There are a handful of power-ups and additional bombs, but nothing that adds to your arsenal.
The stages in Z-Warp are typically short, but despite their length, they require your full attention to learn the attack waves (easy) and how to avoid the bursts of fire (not so easy). There are two main modes: Story and Endless. It felt almost impossible to beat with zero credits, let alone make it on the leaderboards. However, again and again, you learn the patterns, and it all becomes reasonable enough, and before you know it, you’ve unlocked an extra credit for each boss you beat. Albeit, a new credit means the score gets reset!
Yes, Z-Warp is a challenging game, and despite having an Easy, Medium and Hardcore mode, they may as well be classed as ‘challenging’. The only benefit to the latter is an increase in the score modifier, so only completing a handful of stages would give you a far superior score to finishing the story mode on the lesser levels. In truth, the game is a little too hard in places, and sometimes the credit is the only buffer to get through the inevitable onslaught.
Presentation-wise, it’s ok. As a vertical scroller, there are black bars to the left and right. At a glance, this feels like a wasted opportunity for some artwork, but when you get stuck into gameplay, looking at the sides of the screen is the least of your worries. There’s the obligatory health warning at the start of the game, but beware: if you have epilepsy, you might want to pass on Z-Warp. It’s not the most hectic of bullet hells I’ve played, but it’s definitely on the ‘mental’ side of the fence. Though I’m lucky not to have any associated health issues, I could not play this game for long periods, much like Eastasiasoft’s Beat Souls, purely because of the animation/framerate, not gameplay.
Z-Warp is a little on the weak side for content. It feels a little like a demo in some respects, as there’s only a handful of stages plus that endless run. As we all know, a decent shmup is about your hi-scores, and on that part, it doesn’t disappoint. Z-Warp is well worth picking up within the context of gameplay and the price point if you’re a shoot ’em up fan. I doubt it’ll be your go-to shooter, but certainly a title to add to your library.