Developer: 2P Games
Release Date: August 6, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Action, Roguelike
The fusion of an anime art style with roguelite elements was what initially had me interested in Zengeon. I don’t usually see this combination, but it’s a genre that I enjoy sinking hours into. From the significant amount of replayability to the high degree of player agency, the genre boasts several elements that make it an addicting time. That is unless you’re Zengeon.
Zengeon has players choose between 6 playable characters; Murong Yuqing, Liu Muying, Yuan Ziyu, Hou Shuyan, and He Ruolin, though the option to play as most of the cast unlocks as progress is made. Each character fights in distinct ways, which makes the choice matter. This is a basic, necessary design decision, yet the execution of the core gameplay makes any individuality between the playable characters a moot point.
Players explore and battle across varied linear set pieces that usually just alter in aesthetic. Upgrades and powerups are found from opening treasure chests with currency obtained from destroying enemies and the environment. Alongside a standard attack, there are also special skills that can be used with cooldown timers. It’s an admittedly conceptually effective gameplay loop.
However, the performance on the Switch version is abhorrent. While it is serviceable when simply walking around to reach the next batches of enemies, the frame rate dips significantly when fighting hordes, which most of the experience tends to be. To be blunt, I often had difficulty knowing where I was at points during these messy encounters. In addition, my character avatar was blocked from sight while enemies cluttered the screen considerably. This fault was present when both docked and on handheld mode.
Moreover, I consider myself to at least be decent at the genre, but I believe Zengeon was almost exclusively designed with cooperative play in mind. Yes, players can choose to play with others, and I’m sure that it offers an enjoyable time. Unfortunately, the difficulty seems to lean with multiplayer as a base. When beginning runs, I always faced two extremities. I would either die in less than a minute from being bombarded with attacks, or I would camp by spamming special skills whenever they were available and reach the end of the run. Funnily enough, the boss battles are shockingly mindless and straightforward when compared with the constant waves of mobs that spawn.
There is a lack of invincibility frames, or they are just way too brief to be noticeable, so if you happen to get hit while amid a group, losing vast amounts of health is a likely outcome. Now, this didn’t have to be a negative, but the enemy design and player movement were tailored to making precision a focused component, which is obviously not the case because enemies spawn in immense groups, especially in later stages.
As for other facets, such as the story and dialogue, they are essentially tossed to the side and do the bare minimum. For instance, when beginning a playthrough, the chosen character will speak to their master, Nanzi, and his dialogue is mostly identical no matter which playable character is chosen. Of course, given the genre at play here, having no strong narrative pushing events forward is acceptable. Still, when coupled with the lackluster performance and questionable gameplay, the other faults are amplified tenfold, blatantly highlighting the lack of value this package contains.
Lastly, there is no saving system or checkpoints while in the middle of the run. If this title were more tightly designed with fairer consequences and smoother movement, this would make progression tenser, but as it stands, it makes the game increasingly frustrating.
I know I’m coming off as overly pessimistic, and I apologize for that, but Zengeon fails when executed in almost every possible way. The variety of playable characters is neat, and the co-op feature is nice, but I can’t see myself recommending this. After playing, players will swiftly notice the inept synergy between the combat mechanics alongside the mangled performance and atrocious enemy frequency. There are plenty of other roguelikes out there, and I promise that any one of those is likely better worth your time than Zengeon.
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