A game doesn't need to feature a tapestry of complex choices and moral dilemmas or a suite of intricate mechanics to be fun. One of the many examples of this notion is the retro-inspired Zytron II by indie developer Trinosis. It's a scrolling shoot-'em-up inspired by classics like R-Type and Armalyte, with a giant helping of Geometry Wars thrown in for good measure.
If you're not familiar with the original Zytron game--called Zytron Megablast--don't be too surprised. One-man development team Kevin Murphy made it for the Commodore 64 home micro twenty-two years ago, and it was sold via classic UK magazine, Zzap64. Zytron II retains much of its old-school sensibilities, but wraps them up in a blinding and chaotically-beautiful neon sheen.
The goal in Zytron II is just about as straightforward as it gets. Shoot everything in your path until you've completed all the levels and defeated the game's final boss. A huge variety of enemy types--ranging from different kinds of wall-based turrets, to UFOs, to flying geometric shapes--add a lot of variety to how the player should best approach a given situation.
Zytron II's field of view scrolls along of its own volition, occasionally stopping to accommodate things like an arena-like UFO invasion, meteor swarm, or a protracted battle against one of the game's host of varied bosses. Crystals adorning the walls can be collected to boost one's score (while simultaneously healing one's ship), and enemies will periodically drop ship-shaped power-ups which will increase the player's firepower, or add a string of up to five trailing ships that fire in unison with the player. Screen-clearing smartbombs can also be collected and used to get out of tough situations.
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As you can tell from the trailer above, Zytron II is visually very busy, with a lot of color, motion, and particle effects in play most of the time. While some enemy projectiles can be destroyed, the sheer amount of stuff to dodge delivers a persistent assault of the senses. Zytron II isn't as difficult as a lot of bullet-hell shooters, but the sheer amount of neon death and explosions firing off simultaneously give it the same sort of feel and "keep-moving-or-die" gameplay.
Though it's a PC-only title, Zytron II features co-op for up to four players. I've had the opportunity to play some of the levels with another player, and am happy to report that adding more folks to the mix works quite well. One of the more interesting points about co-op is a mechanic that allows players to share energy (health) with each other, which was helpful for saving a friend who was about to die. Keyboards, mice, joysticks, and Xbox 360 gamepads are supported for just such multiplayer endeavors.
I found that my favorite control-sceme for Zytron II was mouse-only, followed closely by the Xbox 360 gamepad. The mouse-only controls proved quite elegant. The ship auto-fires; moving the mouse controls the ship, and the left and right mouse-buttons rotate the vessel.
Throughout the game's thirty-two good-sized levels aesthetics and level layouts change up quite a bit, though the objective remains the same: kill everything. The experience is akin to floating through a particularly hazardous fireworks display, and does a very good job satisfying the urge to blow stuff up. Zytron II isn't what I'd call revolutionary, but it is a solid and fun shooter that fans of the genre might want to check out.