Developer: Rogue Snail
Genre: 2D Shooter
I came across this little gem while taking a quick dip through the hundreds of free-to-play titles on Steam (because I’m broke; not even going to try to hide it). For a free game, it’s really impressive: bright, cheery colors that don’t sear into your eyes; a chiptune soundtrack that doesn’t grate on the nerves after an hour of play; easy-to-learn gameplay mechanics; and a reasonable difficulty level with well-placed difficulty spikes.
On the topic of the audio and visual features, Relic Hunters Zero had a nostalgic quality that nagged me for a few minutes during the tutorial (which is optional, by the way). I found myself trying hard to place what felt so familiar about this game, at first attributing it to the fact that I’d played a few hours of two of Rogue Snail’s other projects, the tactical RPG Chroma Squad and the “Dungeons and Dragons”-like (but pixel and pop culture-laden) Knights of Pen and Paper (both of which I enjoy, haven’t finished, and will be writing a review on soon-ish). No, the game I had in mind was the very odd but equally fun ToeJam and Earl (a series soon to be revived by Humanature Studios and Adult Swim Games with ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove). The color palette, the beeps of chiptune and the overall aesthetic of the 2D shooter brought me back to the classic adventure game (although RHZ is faster-paced, has radically different gameplay mechanics, and is much less frustrating). The entire package presents the game as a light-hearted jaunt and fun for the whole family.
Which it is. The difficulty amps up in reasonable degrees, and learning on the fly is necessary to survive past the first few levels, but it’s never too hard and it’s never too easy. RHZ never felt unfair, even when I found myself dying from a lack of healing items. Having played and died multiple times, I can honestly say I’m too engrossed with surviving the game to actually determine how unfair the spawns for bullets, bombs, and healing packs are. Really, it feels more like my failures are my own and the game’s anti-frustration features help with that immensely. The more I jump back in, the longer I last, which is satisfying and the sign of a good game.
You start the game with access to Adventure mode, and I’m sure once I complete that, I’ll gain access to the currently closed-off Endless mode. In the beginning, you can play as one of two characters: all-rounder Jimmy, who’s skilled with all weapon types, and melee-master Pinkyy (yes, with 2 y’s) who, while unable to use grenades, has a neat super shield (I’ve been using her primarily because her gauntlets are excellent against animal-type enemies and clearing terrain). You can unlock new playable characters by completing progression-related tasks: buying all check points (which allow you to skip to where you died so you have a better chance of beating the game), beating the game without using checkpoints (which is kind of difficult for me right now), and getting a certain number of Bounty points (in-game currency). You can use Bounty to buy new weapons, ammo, healing items, and relic pieces, which are (once combined) used to boost the character in some way (added health, increased stamina recovery, etc). Having this little leg-up before you start a new run helps you reach your previous death point faster, and meet the challenges that held you back before better prepared and more confident.
There are 2 base types of enemies: humanoids and monsters. While both types attack in groups, they have very distinct fighting styles: humanoids carry weapons and are cautious, whereas monsters are more aggressive and do not flee. Thus far, the only humanoid types I’ve seen are the more prevalent turtle(?) humanoids who lack shields and have low HP, and the duck(?) humanoids who are heartier, have shields, and are much more cautious than their turtle counterparts (they’re more likely to dodge, and hang back as the turtles try to pull off a pincer attack on me). Humanoids and monsters tend to attack each other, so in instances where you can release a group of monster dogs on a group of humanoid enemies, do so and hang back; shooting the winners of that skirmish has helped me clear more floors than I can count (it’s a solid tactic and I feel no remorse). Using the environment is crucial to survival, too; watching your ammo consumption and knowing when to fall back and hide behind fragile bushes or harder-to-break stone blocks to refresh your shield and reload is vital.
In the end, Relic Hunters Zero is excellent for a free game and kind of addictive. I was pleasantly surprised how much I wholeheartedly enjoyed playing it, and I plan on getting back into it soon.
- Free is always good
- Plays like it should’ve cost more (at least $5)
- Audio and visual elements are easy on the eyes and ears
- Easy to pick up
- Reasonable difficulty spike
- After a while, it’s easy to see that some areas are just repeats of previous ones; the only thing that changes is spawn point placement
- Spawns of ammo or grenades are great and all, but if you’re playing as Pinkyy, you won’t ever need the grenades, and you’ll sometimes find an abundance of ammo for weapons you don’t have or don’t like to use
- I would’ve really liked to be able to carry more than 2 different weapons at a time