Preview: Zoids Assault Hands-On

ZoidsaPromoCv.jpg I completely missed the whole Zoids toy/anime phenomenon. Up until May of this year when Atlus USA announced Xbox 360 strategy-RPG Zoids Assault, I’d honestly never even heard of Tomy’s toy model franchise. But now that I know what Zoids are – colossal mechanical war machines constructed in the likenesses of various real-life beasts – I can sure see why the franchise has attracted a strong fanbase, not to mention how perfect a source of inspiration it is for video games.

Apparently, the Zoids universe has spawned numerous video game adaptations, but Zoids Assault marks my first experience with the franchise in any form. The 360-exclusive strategy-RPG doesn’t go public until next month, but Atlus recently provided me with an early preview/review build to start tinkering away with, and I must say I’m really enjoying it.

Currently, I’m in the middle of the game’s fourth mission (yes, there is a mid-mission quick-save feature), and up to now it’s been as fun as one would expect a game with huge mech beasts to be. The story presentation and graphical production aren’t particularly the sexiest – cut scenes are nothing more than concept art slideshows with narration and the in-game environments are terribly bland – but the gameplay and customization options have thus far kept the experience thoroughly entertaining.

The core of Zoids Assault is that of a standard turn-based strategy game. You navigate an army of up to five Zoids across grid-based maps and clear them of all enemies using a combination of tactical thinking and brute force. Units participating in battle gain experience and level up, after which they can be equipped and customized with an assortment of weapons, armor, paint schemes and special abilities.

What sets Zoids Assault apart from the SRPG crowd, however, is its intense focus on teamwork. Sure, to some degree all SRPGs require appropriately utilizing the talents of your entire party to achieve victory, but not to the extent of this game. Triumph or defeat in Zoids Assault hinges solely on your ability to out think and outnumber the opponent.

Combat in the game centers around a unique scan and support system. When any of your units are within attack range of an enemy unit, they will begin to scan the target, represented by a small, adjacent gauge. As the scan gauge fills, nearby units will gain damage and accuracy bonuses against that target, and more importantly the ability to support their fellow Zoid teammates. You can gain a max support count of 3, which means that when you attack, up to three allies within range will back up your initial attack with their own. So in the span of a single unit’s turn you can potentially squeeze in four attacks, effectively eliminating an enemy unit in one fell swoop and greatly shifting the tide of war in your favor. Learning to properly flank the enemy and place your units in the optimal position to provide support fire (and avoid being trapped in by the same tactics by the opposition) is the key, or so it has been in the missions I’ve completed.

Another aspect of the game that I appreciate is its quick pacing. I know, a mech strategy game that’s not mind-numbingly slow sounds implausible, right? But it’s true. Zoids, though bulky, are quite the agile pieces of machinery and move around the map at a zippy clip. Attack sequences are also kept short and sweet, and enemy AI movement calculations take no time at all. Not once have I been stuck waiting and waiting for an enemy unit to make a move.

Three and a half missions in, my lone concern with Zoids Assault is whether or not it’ll have enough longevity to warrant paying $60 for. On completing the third mission, I already received an achievement for having cleared 20% of the campaign. That means the campaign can’t be any longer than 14 or 15 missions, which by my estimation likely equates to only 15 hours of play time at the max (all of the missions so far have been under an hour), and that’s not exactly long for an RPG. There are only eight total achievements to unlock, too, five of which are awarded for merely reaching campaign completion percentage milestones, so replay value there appears to be minimal.

Whether the game will be worth a full-priced purchase or a rental is still to be determined as I continue working my way through the campaign, but no matter what I can say with certainty that Zoids Assault will be a must-play game for mech heads and strategy nuts. Zoids Assault ships to retail in North America on September 9th exclusively for Xbox 360. I’ll keep plugging away in the meantime and check back in next month with my final verdict. Stay tuned…

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!