I want to start a “Trying to Play/Watch/Read” series where I consume a particular work and attempt to wrap my head around it, mainly inspired by Joseph Anderson and Mandalore, with journal-ish element. I was gonna kickstart the series with Zero Ranger. Then I encountered a lot of trouble with the structure, I am not suited to write an overly long essay, and then this went on a long hiatus. Eventually I got fed up with it and just write in a way that suits my style, informal and journal-ish.
I 1 credit cleared Zero Ranger. The most high profile shmups in recent time, adored by inside and outside the shmups community. Everyone in shmups community has at the very least heard about it, it has a spot in the Shmups Forum annual popularity poll, Dunkey shilled it, random folks I seen on Discord expressed interest in playing the game. I’m glad a shmup has received attention outside of shmups community, now if only Devil Engine or every other newly released shmups get the same treatment.
I suspect I have differing opinion of Zero Ranger with everyone else. This game got a spot in the Shmups Forum Top 25 Shmups of all time, people are saying this game is one of the best shmups of all time, beating out a hundred other shmups in existence, that is a huge statement. I only see Zero Ranger as a good game with an otherwise unique presentation no shmups ever had.
There is a huge variety within the bosses, enemies, levels, but they are largely style over substance. They look cool the first time I look at it, then they turn out not that challenging and not even that interesting to fight. The best level in the entire game is the second stage because it is the only challenging one that tests player on both survival and scoring. I hated the R-Type ship, but then I find it the best boss to fight against in the entire game. It has a ball that absorbs your bullets, absorbs enough and it releases a lot of dense bullets. The ship itself is relatively fragile, well protected by the ball and its own dangerous bullet pattern. You can get around the ball and swiftly obliterate the ship, but positions you at a risky spot. The main boss is not as good as R-Type but it is still better than most of the bosses in the game. Its constant movement between left and right makes his bullet pattern pretty dangerous. The additional boss in second loop, he can be a dangerous fight if you do not have the backshot upgrade. Since you can’t stay above his head and safely backshoot him to death, you have to either stay below the head and shoot him, which puts you much closer to the source of the bullets, or try to hit his arm, which is easier said than done because the arm has hitbox and the boss will still shoots bullet toward you.
I have to say I like how the bosses have such a huge variety, but none of them reach the height of bosses in second stage. Grapefruit is a hype bossfight, I can play it again and again for the presentation, but really he is just a pushover. The true last boss looks intimidating at first, but she never changes her attack pattern up until the end. Once you become accustomed to her attack pattern, she sort of becomes a pushover as well.
Let’s talk about the stages, I like stage 2 because it has multiple things for players to keep track of at the same time. The player has to keep in mind of obstacles, the enemies coming from multiple direction, if the players play for scores they need to keep an eye on their chain counter. All the other stages feel like cakewalk, it becomes a bit harder if one tries to go for a scoring run, but not much. Playing stage 3 feels like going back to stage 1, it is most similar to stage 1 compared to stage 2 and stage 4, and it is a pretty easy stage as well, not counting the train and the walker. Stage 4 has a tons of gimmicks, and doesn’t even pretend it is not a scoring stage. In short, Stage 2 is the best because it is the only stage that tests players on both survival and scoring.
I beat the game with Type-B II IV VI, I have heard people criticized the balance of the game, that Type-C is completely inferior to Type-B so there is no reason to choose Type-C. From the bit I played of Type-C, I have not discovered any advantage with its faster speed, its narrow shot doesn’t seem to deal more damage, seems to just exist for a tradeoff for its useless faster speed. The upgrades aren’t just less useful, they don’t even look as cool. Type B powerup allows you to shoot long range flamethrower from your butt, Type C’s just let you shoot regular bullets from your butt. Type B charge shot has a lot of utility, from shielding yourself to create a blockage, Type C’s is just piercing, you can absorb as many bullets as you can with the front but it covers very narrow area. Absorbing the bullets speeds up the charging, but this isn’t a bullet hell game, it might be more useful if the game is actually one, as there are more bullets for you to absorb, and allows you to spam the charge shot, and thus make it more useful. To be frank, the game does not seem to be balanced for Type C.
Zero Ranger has a great presentation, it has great visuals to look at, great soundtrack to listen to, and lot of surprise up its sleeves for first timer. I love its soundtrack and would shill it as much as I can. Zero Ranger has my favourite colour (orange) in its colour palette, and it meshes well with the green colour to create a very cool-looking aesthestic. As much as I love the visuals and soundtrack, they are bonuses to me, I tend to pay more attention to the gameplay department of a game. I can play a game with ugly looks as long as it is fun to play, I cannot play a boring game with pretty looks.
Despite all the issues, I still like the game overall. I know not everybody are as gameplay purist as me, presentations and unique ideas still attracts a lot of people. With the game’s phenomenal presentation and original ideas, I can easily recommend it to anyone, even to people who doesn’t play shmups. I am looking forward to the hard difficulty mode, maybe that will fix my complaint, or at least the lack of challenge.