"No. This game is nothing at all like Zillion in terms of gameplay. Where Zillion was Sega's Metroid, Zillion II is a cross between the simplest shooter (think Cloud Master) and the simplest jump and shoot platformer (think Cyber Shinobi). But there is a charming, agreeable quality to The Tri-Formation that cannot be denied. "
It's all about the bike
No. This game is nothing at all like Zillion in terms of gameplay. Where Zillion was Sega's Metroid, Zillion II is a cross between the simplest shooter (think Cloud Master) and the simplest jump and shoot platformer (think Cyber Shinobi). But there is a charming, agreeable quality to The Tri-Formation that cannot be denied.
The story of the White Knights and their battle against the Norsa Empire and their heathenish headman, Baron Ricks, is documented in both anime and manga series. The Knights are: J.J. (where's Jeff?) Apple (the girl is the fruit?) and Champ (there, there. You'll always be our Champ). I know I am not the only one who finds these names odd at best. Someone a little ways up the creative ladder decided that names like Ken and Ryu and Mark and Jason were overdone. Certainly it was a wise and innovative move not to use them, but J.J.? Sadly, he does not yell ''dynomiiite!'' when engaged in combat. We can only wish.
In the first Zillion, using some amount of stealth and detective work, the three mates scoured the Norsa Empire's labyrinth on the mysteriously named Planet X and located the floppy disks (they still use those things?) for use in conjunction with the Master Computer, enabling them to destroy the base. We all thought the universe was safe once more, but when a distress signal beckons Apple and Champ to a shadowy, new Norsa Battle Fortress (J.J. was indisposed at the time), the adventure starts anew. J.J. must hurriedly wash up, and set out to rescue his friends and put down this newest Norsa nuisance.
The instruction manual makes us feel like we can do it. It gives us unbridled, overflowing confidence. We are reminded that we have The Zillion, the most powerful laser in the universe. But we had that last time! you whine, wanting more. Aha! But you didn't have The Tri-Formation did you? And it is this transforming, nuclear-powered, three-wheeled cycle that makes all the difference.
If you are a fan of the original, you will find that the game starts you on unfamiliar ground. J.J. will be hunched over what looks like a hi-tech motorcycle, though it actually has three wheels. The screen scrolls automatically, like a common 2-D shooter, and the similarities don't stop there. Enemies include all manner of grounded and airborne gun pods, mostly spherical in shape. Lightly armoured Norsa infantry will patrol the areas firing slow moving—but numerous—bullets. Additional hazards include vitality draining floors and bottomless pits that you must leap over. You must control your bike, allowing it to make surging jumps over projectiles and pitfalls alike, pulling back on the stick to slow the screen when necessary, pushing forward to race ahead. You can fire your Zillion handgun a la Mission: Impossible 2, John Wu style, both while ducking and while taking the bike to the air. All of this is only moderately exciting. What takes the shooting action to the next level is when you truly take the bike to the air.
If you are a fan of Robotech—The New Generation in particular—you will appreciate the transformation that the Cyclone-like Tri-Formation makes into The Armorater (as well as the flying mecha that look curiously like Officer’s Gunpods from Macross). Grab the ''A'' icon when it's available, and turn raw steel and rider into a fearsome amalgamation of both. Now you are truly flying and firing, as well as providing an immense target for enemy projectiles to hit. Your massive bulk, the increasing number of enemies, and the rate of their fire help to keep things challenging in later stages. Early on, you will be offered the ''A'' to try things out, but as you close in on Baron Ricks, you simply must take the icon as it appears because the level won't give you the option of riding; the floor will be comprised totally of the aforementioned in-ground high voltage traps.
So our beloved Metroid-killer has become a lowly shoot-em-up? Firstly, I would warn you against referring to shmups as lowly. Secondly, the shooting stages aren't all there is to this queer cartridge. They only account for stages 1,3, 5 and 7 of this 8 level mission. The even numbered areas feature run, jump and shoot 'infiltration levels'. Ostensibly, the bike sequences get you to the entrance of a particular outpost. You take it from there on foot, Zillion laser in hand. These locales feature elevators to traverse their many floors, rooms to explore—some empty, two holding your pals Apple and Champ captive, and the others home to the boss battles.
The guardians are as follows: the Olivion Platoon Captain, Radajian Defense Leader, Alleevian Supreme Commander and finally in round 8, Baron Ricks himself (there are no bosses in the bike stages). The battles with the Norsa troops when on foot seem a simple affair, but like the Shinobi games, it's all about enemy placement. Usually ducking or jumping as you shoot does the trick rather nicely, but as is the norm with platformers, J.J. sometimes finds himself caught by a bullet in midair at that precise time when he is directly over a pit. He will cramp up and drop. So it's this annoyance as well as the clever patterns of the bosses that provide the toughest challenge in these levels.
The combination of two different types of game in one works extremely well in Zillion II. Other games have attempted this variety (usually shooters) with varying degrees of success. Thunder Force II for Sega's Genesis received critical acclaim for its intensity, but just as many detractors seemed to feel that the overhead levels that were interspersed with the horizontal stages were tedious, or worse yet, unnecessary. That is not the case with Zillion II. The game is paced so that you feel like you're really on a mission on your bike to fight your way to a given outpost so that you may infiltrate it in true Zillion fashion and take out its commander. Also, rescuing your friends allows you to use them when J.J.'s vitality is running low. You can only use them once each, but their involvement effectively enables for you two lifelines (bear in mind that the differences between the three friends are only cosmetic).
Despite all these plusses, it is still necessary to note that Zillion II still does not have the depth of its predecessor and it remains a very simple playing game. The levels are all very distinct, but this is done mainly through giving each stage its own colour theme, like Windows desktops. The tunes are also very limited; there is one track for the bike stages, one for the running stages, and one for boss encounters. But similar to the gameplay limitations, the simplicity of the graphics and sound don't seem to detract much from the fun of the experience. If anything, the simple, straightforward layout, soundtrack, and mission endear you to the game all the more. Any Master System owner—Zillion fan or not—would do well to add Zillion II to their collection. The average Sega player will find it a pleasurable way to spend a half hour at a time—Robotech and 2-D shooter aficionados should be particularly pleased.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 12, 2004)
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