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Zed Blade (NeoGeo) artwork

Zed Blade (NeoGeo) review

"When I think of the Neo-Geoís small library of horizontal shooters, the first thing that comes to mind is R-Type. No, Irem never put any of their flagship franchiseís games on this system, but you donít exactly have to be a genius to see that influence in games such as Pulstar, Last Resort and (to a lesser degree) Blazing Star. So, why would I expect anything drastically different from the obscure Zed Blade? "

When I think of the Neo-Geoís small library of horizontal shooters, the first thing that comes to mind is R-Type. No, Irem never put any of their flagship franchiseís games on this system, but you donít exactly have to be a genius to see that influence in games such as Pulstar, Last Resort and (to a lesser degree) Blazing Star. So, why would I expect anything drastically different from the obscure Zed Blade?

A 1994 game by NMK, Zed Blade didnít start out as overly impressive. After picking one of three planes (to determine your flying speed) and customizing your weapons, youíre dropped into a mountainous region to shoot down a horde of weak planes, followed by a big, ugly boss plane. About the only cool thing I noticed was a neat little morphing effect as many foes would transform from objects resembling computer chips into planes and helicopters.

What I didnít notice was anything resembling a fun challenge. Zed Blade seemed as vanilla as a game could be. There wasnít any tricky R-Type-style maneuvering through claustrophobic tunnels or anything cool like that. Other than the way enemies morphed and an awesome techno/rave soundtrack, I couldnít find anything impressive about that initial level of Zed Blade.

But things soon got better, as subsequent stages took my ship far away from boring olí Earth into the vastness of space. The four stages were almost a dream come true. The stages moved faster, the opposition was tougher and the graphics got better, culminating with the gorgeous clouds that provide the background in the fifth stage, ďSurface of the JupiterĒ. While Zed Blade didnít do a single thing to remind me of R-Type, it was proving to be one fun, fast-paced side-scroller.

But then I moved on to the final three stages and the ďfunĒ was thrown out the window in favor of an abundance of the ďfast-pacedĒ. For the majority of those final stages, Iíd watch my ship get blown up over and over again, oftentimes with only a few seconds between each embarrassing explosion. Itís not that Iím an unskilled player, but Iím only capable of processing so much information at once. And when Iím confronted with a gigantic laser-toting ship in front of me, while a half-dozen small robots are zipping along my flank firing at me with uncanny accuracy AND another half-dozen are just itching to have their chance at me -- well, thatís a bit too much for me to handle at once.

I canít blame the gameís mechanics for this. When you die, you donít get sent back to checkpoints (or the beginning of the stage). You also donít lose ALL your power-ups. Anytime you lose a ship, it explodes into a handful of enhancements. As your new ship appears on the screen, it is invulnerable for a few seconds, which should be sufficient for you to grab those items and enter battle with at least a respectable amount of firepower. For me, that wasnít enough. Iíd get into position, start firing wildly at the horde of enemies on the screen, only to watch a bullet or three punch through my vessel like a spiked fist through notebook paper.

When you consider how fast and frenetic the action gets toward the end of Zed Blade, it really makes you wonder why your ship isnít equipped with some sort of shield. You can give yourself effective firepower from both the front and the back, some potent missile attacks and a handful of bombs that are incredibly devastating, even to bosses, but you have no way of protecting yourself from any of the many enemy counterattacks. While having a shield would not completely fix the problem of this game becoming a bit too fast for its own good, it would at least make it a bit more tolerable as the deaths might not rack up quite so quickly.

The boss fights in this game didnít do much to improve my feelings, either. As mentioned earlier, the first levelís main foe is one ugly ship that looks like a fancier version of the eight-bit hunks of junk you fought in old-school NES games like B-Wing and Exed Exes. After that, you get a pair of somewhat neat bosses in ďLunar WalkerĒ and ďCosmic SlimeĒ. The former is a gigantic robot that runs across the surface of the moon, occasionally firing at you; while the latter expands as you fire upon it, only to blast pieces of itself at you once it reaches its maximum size. After that, NMK apparently ran out of creative ideas, as the rest of the bosses are pretty lame. You have an ugly robotic snake, a trio of bland ships and a final boss thatís mainly notable for the amazing amount of lethal crap itís capable of cluttering the screen with at any time.

But, like the tagline says, this game ALMOST grew on me. While a good deal of it is pretty crappy, those four stages I liked simply were wonderful. They could get frenetic, but never felt unfair. Iíd blast my way through a couple of waves of minor enemies and then watch as mini-boss-caliber ships came at me one-by-one (sometimes with an escort of cannon fodder foes). All the time, Iíd be serenaded with the driving beats of some kickass rave music. This isnít like BioMetal on the SNES, where the dance music completely clashes with the game in most levels. I donít know how NMK pulled it off, but the techno beats provide a PERFECT complement to this game.

Sadly, nearly all the good moments happened in the early-to-middle portion of this game. While the music still was great during the final stages, nothing else was, causing me to nearly forget that I had enjoyed this game for awhile. In making Zed Blade, NMK apparently was trying to make a side-scrolling Neo-Geo shooter that wasnít a doppleganger of R-Type and they succeeded in that. Unfortunately, they werenít so successful in creating a shooter that was consistently enjoyable, as half of this game is excellent, but the other half is the epitome of imperfection.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (July 22, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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