Indies to Watch: ZHeros

Indies to Watch: ZHeros

New Sicilian developer Rimlight offers a modern take on classic 90's side-scrolling beat 'em ups.

Remember beat 'em up classics like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Golden Axe? Did you like them? If so, then here's an Xbox One game you'll quite likely be interested in hearing about.

Reminiscent of those aforementioned early 90's combat games, ZHeros is a modern take on the side-scrolling fighting genre. Playing alone or in local cooperative mode with a pair of intrepid heroes, the agile Captain Dorian and lantern-jawed beefcake Mike, ZHeros pits the pair against Dr. Vendetta's massive army of robotic minions. It's simple, pure arcade stuff as you mash your way through an endless array of enemies using melee moves, guns, and whatever other weapons you happen to pick up along the way.

Adding a more modern twist to the proceedings are combos that enable you to chain together complex moves which, when performed correctly, earn xp that can be used to upgrade your character. The game features skill trees that let you to boost certain aspects of your hero to augment your playstyle. Melee combat more your thing? Then hone in on boosting your bot-beatdown capabilities. Prefer to sit back and fire your gun? That's where you need to spend your xp. And if you're a combo expert, you can add even more complex moves to your repertoire.

I played the game during an extended session at the ID@Xbox event during GDC 2015 and was immediately reminded of a stack of old 8- and 16-bit beat 'em ups of yore. The game basically plays along the lines of Final Fight, but doesn't go the chunky pixel route like other Indie games might in terms of visual style. Instead, it looks bang up to date, with crisp, stunning-looking, stylized graphics that give the game a hyper-real look. A really clever effect is the use of blurring to deliver the impression of extended depth of field. Enemies and objects that are out of the player's plane are blurred, giving the game a really effective feeling of depth. Oh, and speaking of objects – there are, of course, tons of things to break open on your travels for power-ups, health and useful items.

Combat is very fast and you certainly need your wits about you to survive the aggressive onslaught of robots that are thrown at you. This isn't a walk in the park, that's for sure, and while you can progress a reasonable distance without the use of combos, once you get past the first boss character, you really need to be able to juggle enemies and zip about the screen – typical combo moves – to avoid getting smashed. This is definitely a pretty challenging game, feeling very similar in difficulty to many of the old-school games from which ZHeros draws its inspiration.

Fortunately there is some help along the way, and I managed to reach a mech – which let me unleash all manner of hell on swarms of enemy bots until I wrecked it. That was a huge amount of fun!

Featuring between two to three hours of gameplay, and looking like it'll weigh in at around $19.99 when it's released this summer, ZHeros is a cool-looking retro throwback that really captures the spirit of classic beat 'em ups. It's definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

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