Closing In On the Early Access Finish Line in Zenzizenzic

Zenzizenzic popped up last May, and after a bit over a year, is somehow just about done.  It’s gone from a Kickstarter project to being picked up by Adult Swim, which allowed the addition of a mega-mode stretch goal the campaign didn’t reach.  After a few months gestation, Zenzizenzic landed on Steam Early Access in April, where it’s been undergoing updates and revisions ever since.  Now the final update before going gold is being released, adding the gameplay tweaks and final zones to the quest mode to round out the package in the last days of testing.  So what’s new?  Plenty!

It hasn’t been that long since I covered Zenzizenzic so head over here for an in-depth breakdown.  The short version is that it’s a twin-stick shooter with multiple primary and secondary weapons as well as defensive abilities and movement options.  Basically, Zenzizenzic is a masters thesis in bullet-hell twin stick shooting, both from a design and gameplay standpoint.  Some of the main weapons have different properties depending on whether you’re moving slow, normal, or fast, the shield  can be sacrificed for a bullet-clearing explosion,  there are two secondary weapons to choose ranging in difficulty of usage from easy to rocket science, and learning to put it all together  is going to require a lot of experience.  Fortunately, you can always have a great time shooting and dodging through the levels, picking up technique as you go, until eventually your play style bears no resemblance to how it started and with an astronomical score to match.

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The game is divided between two main modes- Classic and Macro.  Classic has five hand-built levels, each themed by color and types of hazard.  Level one has lots of enemies and normal bullets, level two amps up the intensity with lasers that cut down on maneuvering room, level three lets loose with massive swarms of homing bullets, level four has walls everywhere, and level five is everything all at once, all the time.  The enemies show up in preconstructed waves, no randomization, but the way they react to the player’s actions leaves plenty of room for improvisation.  Macro mode, on the other hand, is far more open, taking place on an endlessly scrolling  field that spawns enemies and structures randomly as you explore.  There’s more than a touch of RPG in Macro, thanks to score also counting as the currency you spend to upgrade every possible ability a little square ship could have, and clearing swarms of enemies spawns a treasure chest with a random stat perk inside.  It’s still going to be incredibly difficult to clear all five areas and their giant boss guardians, even with all that power, but it’s always fun to try.

While Classic mode was mostly complete back in April, Macro has had a few content updates in the last three months.  Which isn’t to say Classic didn’t get a pair of updates, just that they’re fairly subtle.  The first tweak is that the pickup range for the smaller point-drops expands hugely when you stop firing, which can be really hard to do when there are enemies blanketing the screen.  Seeing as the point-drops also power the secondary weapons it’s probably best to learn the habit of letting go for a second here and there.  The other change is to the bigger power-ups, which used to float off the screen but now bounce off the wall a single time before drifting away.  It’s a good change overall, giving more opportunity to  plan how to use a bullet-canceling shield explosion or even just adding a little extra time for a laser-wall to fade away.  You still have to plot a course through dense walls of firepower to collect them but the extra time means you can come up with a better plan than either becoming a bullet-sponge or doing nothing.

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The big updates have been to Macro mode, though, with three new areas being added to April’s initial two.  Each area is themed after the corresponding level in Classic, so area two adds massive laser barrages and three inundates the screen with homing bullets, etc.  Each area has its own unique style as well, though, with structures spawning and disappearing in ways unique to that section.  Area two is a labyrinth, with plenty of the grey triggers around to spawn or dissolve walls, trigger traps, or just generate a load of point pickups.  Area three, on the other hand, is a more organized collection of passages and open areas, with plenty of yellow treasure chests to tempt you to go exploring.  Area four is more open, which isn’t the same thing as safe due to the walls flying by, and area five is amazing in a “black and white and death all over” kind of way.  No matter how cramped the screen gets, though, there’s an escape to almost any situation if only you can see it before drowning in a sea of abstract geometric bullet hell.

It’s been a long road to completion for Zenzizenzic and it’s still not quite over.  The game itself is now content-complete, but there’s still a final round of bug testing and feedback before it can be called Done.  There have been changes, enhancements, tweaks and massive content updates, taking Zenzizenzic from its Kickstarter roots as a great little twin-stick shooter to its current form as a massive arcade epic.  Whether you’re ready for a little Early Access action or patiently waiting for the July 23 release date, Zenzizenzic is a major treat and an incredible challenge ready to impress all comers.