Like Nights into Dreams, this is another collection of games, that have been given a modern day overhaul and have been dragged into the era of HD gaming.
The two games bundled together in this collection come not from the Dreamcast, but from the days of the Playstation 2 ( a machine I still use to this day I hasten to add). Anyone who knows about these two titles will be aware that these are creations from the same author of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima. Indeed, also bundled into this package, is a demo of Metal Gear Rising but that will be covered in a forthcoming article.
Putting Metal Gear aside we therefore cast the spotlight on the two Zone of the Enders titles on offer. I am not going to go into too much detail here about the plot lines of both games, we do not believe in giving spoilers where we can help it, but I can and will briefly the contrasts between the two titles on offer.
The original Zone of the Enders concerns the adventures of a child called Leo, who whilst running from an air raid conducted by invaders on a martian colony world, stumbles quite literally into the middle of a life and death struggle.
Leo falls into the cockpit of a giant war machine known as a Frame, and from there on in, battles to survive whilst coming to grips with the knowledge that he is now in a war. Young Leo finds adapting to the situation a struggle to say the least as it goes against every ounce of the kid's moral fibre. Early on the battle computer in the Frame demands that he destroy his enemy entirely, but Leo refuses to do so.
In the second game, our hero has no such moral dilemma, no sir, not at all. The action here starts on a moon of Jupiter called Calico. This guy has no problem with dealing destruction to any enemy that crosses his path, and like Leo finds the Frame, by chance. However at least Leo won't die if he walks away from the frame. The main character in the 2nd Rider has been shot, and left for dead by the villain of the piece. Maybe being left where he was shot though would have been better, for he discovers that to save his life, his heart and lungs were removed!
The frame is not only a combat machine, but is the only thing keeping him alive. I find it harder to have the same amount of sympathy for him than I do for Leo as to be honest, he is the somewhat typical, arrogant and loud mouthed hero of some Japanese anime inspired games. Oh and don't laugh, no please don't; it's not his fault that the hero of the second rider is called Dingo. Yes, you read that right, Dingo.
So there you have the main protagonists, one a wide eyed and somewhat naive kid and the other, well, let's just say I found it hard to really warm too him, although the life support issue does garner some sympathy one minute, but his attitude tends to wipe it away the next. You may find you like Dingo better, but the choice is yours.
Both titles have the same machine and how one passes to the other I will leave for you to discover. This factor is good news to be honest, because it means that the game mechanics do not get a major overhaul from the first title. Once you get used to piloting the machine in Zone then come second rider, you will be able to fly it with ease. It's a shame then, that you cannot whistle through the tutorial in second rider, unless playing it through for the second time.
You will soon come to grips with the mechanics of the two games, and yes, there a few tweaks to the second game, but surely they could have introduced those without the need of having to have you go through the whole tutorial first? Never mind, there is enough action and missions/side tasks to do in both titles to take your mind off these annoyances.
You control the frame using the left stick to move left and right and the right stick to turn. Using the right stick is not so important in the first game, but getting the knack of turning with the right stick becomes crucial in 2nd Rider as the enemy a.i. will try and try again to flank you or get behind for some sneaky back shooting antics.
Zone also features smaller battle fields so there isn't as much freedom when it comes to exploration. Wide open spaces stretch before you in 2nd Rider, though there are times when you explore narrow corridors inside stations and space ships. These latter swarm with enemies, and turning with the right stick becomes crucial. The battles in 2nd Rider are intense to say the least. Though fast paced in the first one, foes do not try and swarm and outflank you. Both games give you a shield and a wide variety of secondary weapons so use them. There is also a boost function that can be used in more than one way. It can be used to boost movement, providing a burst of speed for evasion, or boosting the strength of your shots.
Both games have a grapple attack that is activated using the B button. In the first game it's just a case of grabbing and throwing your enemy either into walls and buildings or incoming robots. In the Second Rider there's an added twist, if the B button is held down, you can spin like an olympic discus thrower and then hurl the grabbed robot with extra speed and force. You can also by holding B and the right trigger at the same time, use an enemy as a shield but the longer you hold it, the enemy may take the opportunity to try and break free from your grasp so grab, use as a shield and throw as soon as possible.
Both games are pleasing to the eye, with the latter having a distinctive anime presentation style that makes you think you are playing an interactive Manga cartoon which is no bad thing. The first game has that upgraded pixellated look from it's PS2 days, but the graphics are sharper and animations are much smoother than it's predecessor. It's also superior to Nights into Dreams in many ways.
Both games are imaginative and that is what you would expect from the creator of Metal Gear Solid. The games have a distinctive visual style, but the one thing that makes the eyes boggle slightly, is the err well, there's no other way to describe it, the rather phallic design of the robot. I'll say no more, just look at the screen shots!
You may feel that the games are a bit of a button mashing exercise and that's the case with Zone 1 but 2nd Rider will call upon you to practice tactics. Going toe to toe with enemy units is not always a good idea, sometimes it's better to hang back, snipe from a distance, use the shields or fire off boosted shots from afar.
The enemy a.i is sharper as stated before in 2nd Rider, but the action flows as thick and fast as it does in the first game. When it comes to wanting adrenaline flowing in a game then this will do that but perhaps not in as large doses as other titles I can mention. But there will be a sense of achievement when you defeat a boss or clear a mission.
2nd Rider also features a versus mode but I'll let you discover the challenges of this mode for yourself. Let's just say it's not an easy ride...
The music is more than suitable and although the voice acting of the second title leaves a bit to be desired, nothing really jars. Lighting effects are decent in the first game, and more than adequate in the second.
Hideo Kojima has provided us gamers with some memorable worlds and characters, and although this may not engage you as much as a Metal Gear game, there is enough here to challenge you and keep you busy for some time. Both games are not going to be completed quickly that I can guarantee. These are a throwback to a period of time when game developers gave us games of depth and challenge. I'm not sating that studios don't do that now (Just Cause 2 and InFamous 2 coming to mind here as well as Red Dead Redemption) but let's face it, some big titles in the past have been somewhat on the short side. I have easily clocked up some 6 hours plus playing these titles. (Not in one go, I hasten to add!)
OK pros and cons time;
Immersive, fast paced action that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment when bosses are beaten and battles are won, and side missions completed. Both games give you a lot to do and plenty of environments to face, although they are a little samey in the first title.
There are a wide variety of side arms and devices to utilize in your battles against the enemies coming your way. There's a lot of bang for your bucks here! There's more than just a button masher lurking under the surface so pick a copy up and try it. It's a nice trip down memory lane, much more satisfying an experience than Nights into Dreams.
The first game can leave you hanging wondering what to do and where to go. it's OK hearing that someone has seen an item that you are looking for someplace, but you can spend more than a fair bit of time flying around wondering exactly where to go and exploring areas where you have been before so Zone can be a bit of a grind in places. Thankfully you can save anywhere. The zones are somewhat restrictive in the first game, so you may just prefer the second game where you can 'stretch your legs' so to speak.
2nd Rider's biggest problem may well be the sudden upturn in enemy a.i. Do not go into 2nd Rider thinking that's it's an arcade blast like the first. It can be punishing if you make a mistake and even on easy, it can be a little unforgiving. You may need more patience than you would expect. Bare that in mind when you first load this up.
To sum up, this is a nice trip down memory lane and far more pleasing than others I have encountered as of late. Both games play at a fast frame rate and if you fear things like pop up and frame drop out then fear not. They are not a problem and the overhaul works very very well indeed. Give them a go, although not perfect they are action packed, exciting, challenging but above all else very playable.
Buckle up, those colony worlds need you!