Psikyo find themselves in a strange situation. On one hand they are a respected and very prolific Japanese developer, and on the other hand a large proportion of the gaming scene does not know their work. For fans of the 2d shoot'em-up genre the mention of Psikyo will bring a warming to the heart, whilst for gamers not interested in that genre they mean nothing.
While specialisation does restrict the audience base, it does mean that it's possible to create a greater impact within a niche gaming market. Psikyo along with Treasure and Takumi are responsible for some of the best 2d shooters, and Zero Gunner 2 is their latest release on the Dreamcast.
A plot is not a quality required for a good shoot'em-up. Therefore Psikyo have dropped even a rudimentary introduction to the game. Homage to its arcade origin is evident, with the flashing press start button and small demonstrations of gameplay interrupted by the Ranking Table. The demonstrations offer a glimpse of what is to come, plus offers an introduction to the choice of craft available to the player.
Before the gameplay can commence, the craft in which to deliver the mayhem has to be chosen. There are three different crafts to choose from, each with different features. The difference between each craft is not astounding, but offers a variety of weapons and energy bombs. The game follows a similar path to other shoot'em-up games. Transverse a series of levels, kill the enemy craft and collect power ups and tokens. After destroying certain enemy crafts a power-up icon, or Energy Bomb icon, will be dropped. Obviously, the power-up increases the firepower of the craft. The Energy Icon adds power to the vertical bar on the left hand side of the screen. Fill the bar, and another energy bomb will be at your disposal.
So far no major differences from other Psikyo games. However, there is a very appealing twist in the gameplay. Each craft has the ability to rotate either left or right. This is extremely useful since it means that you are no longer restricted to shooting upward. Sceptical gamers might initially feel that this is merely a gimmick to distinguish this game from countless others, but in later levels it is a necessity if winning is to be an option. This new gameplay mechanic is easy to adapt to, and while it is initially confusing after a couple of goes it will pose no problems.
Even although the game does not include a wide range of extras to unlock, it remains fun. In so many reviews it appears that unlocking extras is the key to increased longevity and replay value. Zero Gunner 2 goes back to the roots where fun gameplay, challenging your own high score and playing a quality two player game are the keys to success.
Like all Psikyo releases the gameplay is taxing, but the balance and learning curve is spot on. The game does not become a focal point of anger due to frustrating and unforgiving gameplay. Resist the temptation of using continues, and open up the replay mode. Here you can save your game and watch in wonder at your skills. As a nice extra there is a replay included showing one of the developers playing the game. Fortunately, I'm not going to spoil it by telling you what you need to achieve to see it.
Graphically Zero Gunner 2 utilises a similar style to GigaWing 2. At the core the game is 2d, but is presented through a 3d engine. The gameplay remains fixed on the level plane throughout the game, although the illusion of moving downwards, upwards, left and right is achieved through scrolling backgrounds. The backgrounds are well constructed, and are highly detailed. While in some games the backgrounds act as window dressing, it is possible to use 3d structures rising from the ground below as cover from enemy fire and craft. Unfortunately the enemy craft do not offer the same appeal. The majority of the enemy craft are small, and not particularly well detailed due to some rather bland textures. The enemy boss craft are much more interesting, and have the ability to transform into a mech robot or creature after a certain level of damage is attained.
The sound effects are typical shoot'em-up fare, although at times they can lack some impact. The music is not the highlight of the game for me, but it is acceptable and not offensive to the ear. At one point I am sure one of the tunes steals the opening two notes from Mission Impossible.
Overall Zero Gunner 2 is a very accomplished shooter for the Dreamcast which definitely warrants a purchase on import. There is no language barrier to be concerned about; therefore non-Japanese speakers should find following everything easy. The game will appeal mostly to the 2d shoot'em-up fan, but if you want a fast paced action game then you will please with this.
A review by Stephen Pringle