Variety may be the spice of life, but no one likes turds in their Whitman’s Sampler.
ExZeus never made much of a splash when it was released in arcades in 2003. On the PS2 and Wii, it wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Even on the iPhone, it was one of many solid 3D action games. But when it finally landed on Android, seven years after its initial release, it was something special; one of the first games that showed our beloved OS, still in its infancy, could handle fast-paced 3D action. For many early adopters, it still holds a special place. It’s no surprise, then, that its developers have made Android the lead and (so far) exclusive platform for its sequel, and it will instantly bring back fuzzy memories for the platform’s early adopters – at least for a moment.
Although ExZeus 2 is set a century or so after the original, its opening stage feels immediately familiar. The gameplay is virtually identical. Inspired by games like Panzer Dragoon and Sin & Punishment, this is a 3D rail shooter with both a lock on system and a rapid-fire gun. In place of an analog stick, tilting the device moves your robotic avatar around the screen and tapping on either side of the screen launches homing missiles or your basic fire. Even the first stage, a flight through the streets of a futuristic city, seems virtually identical to the first game.
This is no remake, however. Despite the similar feel, the differences quickly become apparent. ExZeus’ arcade roots were always very apparent, and there was no escaping that it was a short, repetitive, and relatively simple affair. The sequel makes an effort to include a great deal more variety, and the rail-shooter segments are interspersed with various sequences exhibiting a several new gameplay styles.
One might thing that these new segments would benefit the pacing, but their execution is wildly uneven at best. Periodically, your mech will land, and a virtual d-pad and buttons appear on screen. The basic set up uses archaic “tank controls” where left and right rotate your view and forward and back allow you to move. There is no ability to move diagonally, and all of these controls are sluggish and unresponsive. This feels like a nightmarishly poor conversion of an early 3D action game like Metal Head more than anything you’d hope for in the sequel to an arcade game.
Also early on, you’ll encounter a few motorcycle chases. These likewise control heinously, with overly touchy steering and floaty jumps that make avoiding obstacles the worst kind of challenge. These “variety” segments continue throughout the game, including perhaps the world’s clumsiest overhead-view shoot ‘em up sequence, and each one seems to control worse than the previous. There is support for external controllers, but even here the issue seems to be the mechanics rather than the physical interface. Every time you see that d-pad appear on the screen, ExZeus 2 turns to shit.
This might be forgivable if the rail shooter segments were genuinely excellent but, while they compare well to the original, the slow accelerometer controls feel dated and unresponsive. A proper virtual analog stick would have done wonders for this game, but even with a few control options available, there are none that feel “right.”
On paper, HyperDevbox have done what they needed to, preserving the original, while spicing it up with a smattering of new gameplay styles. While this may be tempting for those who remain nostalgic for the original, the fact is that every one of these new gameplay styles is a miserable failure of control and interface, and the result is the opposite of fun. While the Japanese arcade style and soundrack may have charm, and boss fights offer a few glimmers of brilliance, this is a clumsy, ugly game that is not fit to replace its predecessor.