The war was supposed to be over, but not until one Zoid squad will fight their final and most important mission.
One rainy afternoon, months upon months ago, I was spending some time browsing through the Japanese Xbox Live Marketplace. I was slowly scrolling through the listings, reaching the end when I saw it: Zoids Alternative. A Zoids game? On the 360? There were only a couple trailers for the game, but it was more than enough to excite the dormant Zoid fan inside me. And not only was it a Zoids game, but a turn-based strategy Zoids game. At the same time I was disappointed because I knew that the game would never arrive in North America. Zoids popularity had died out long ago and no company would ever take a chance on releasing the game in a market that wasnít Japan.
Then came May 13th, 2008 when Atlus announced that it would be publishing Zoids Assault (renaming it from Zoids Alternative) in North America. I was floored that this game would actually make it across the ocean, but if any company was going to do it, it was Atlus. It had been awhile since a Zoids game came out in America. The last two, okay, only two, that came out in America were the terribly mediocre action game Zoids Battle Legends for the GameCube and the excellent RPG Zoids Legacy for the GBA. Japan has a ton of Zoids games, so getting one more in the U.S. was unexpectedly pleasant. As the release date neared for this newest Zoids game, my excitement grew little by little.
Zoids Assault is not a great game as there are many things wrong with it, but I love it regardless. Zoids Assault can be considered fan service to a point. Itís not fan service in that youíll see the big recognizable characters or Zoids from the anime and manga like Berserk Fury or Liger Zero. If you have seen an anime or read a manga with Zoids, you know these Zoids. If you havenít, just know that those Zoids are two of the coolest mechanical creatures to walk animated earth. Zoids Assault is fan service in that it simply exists.
This is a separate story kind of based years after the Helic and Guylos war from one or two of the Zoid anime and/or manga. From what I remember, just the country names are recognizable. This story is about a squad of five pilots and their Zoids. You donít get to control an army of Zoids, just these five. And you can never get new Zoids. You are stuck with the same five Zoids throughout the entire game. You have two Shield Ligers, two Command Wolfs, and a D. Bison. While you will get to fight other Zoids like R. Horns and Zaber Fangs, you will never get to pilot them yourself. And that is the extent of the Zoid models in the game, just five, six if you include the appearance of a Gustov. A Deathsaurer is mentioned, but never shown. The Zoids in here go by slightly different names, though. What we know as Zaber Fangs in the West are called S. Tigers in the game.
The story is actually told in the past tense. A commander is telling the story of her and Mace Squad (the name of the squad you control) to a room of uptight politicians. Itís a story of political deception and the gain of power by sacrificing oneís own people. The cut scenes are usually nothing more than a camera panning or zooming on still images. Once in a while there will be a little animation, but overall the visuals of the story are a sad sight. Sometimes youíd be better off just closing your eyes and treating the scenes like a radio drama. At least the voice acting is mostly passable. Having said that, the story is actually told in the past tense, with a visual style to match. The graphics of the battle have a grain filter over them, giving them a rough, in-the-past look. Some of the cut scenes also have the old film look, with lines and tears.
The in-game Zoids are done quite well and have plenty of detail. Having assembled and customized plenty of Zoid models back in the day, I was pleased with the level of detail found on the in-game Zoids. The rest of the visuals probably could have been accomplished on a PS2, but the Zoids themselves matter the most and they look great. Gameplay is from a top-down or isometric perspective; you can rotate the camera to view the stage at any top-viewed angle. A grid appears when you command your Zoids. Once you select what you want the Zoid to do, the screen shifts to a close-up of the Zoids with dynamic camera angles that capture the action. You are able to skip the combat scenes, but the animations of the Zoids just look too good. I never tired of watching the action unfold.
For a strategy RPG, this is a short game. There are only fourteen missions that can take less than as many hours to complete. To lengthen the game a bit, there are enemy prototype Zoids that will appear under certain circumstances. However, fighting these Zoids the first time through is suicide because they are way too strong. You have to wait until you finish the game at least once as you retain all the experience and items for your next play-through. This is kind-of artificially extending the length of the game, but the game really needed it and I was determined to get all eight achievements. Yes, there are only eight.
The objectives of each mission are very simple; you will need to destroy all incoming enemy Zoids, have to protect an installation by destroying all enemy Zoids, or destroy all the enemy installations. For most of the missions you can take as much time and as many turns as you like, but there are a few that must be accomplished within a certain amount of turns, adding a little pressure into not taking your sweet time.
One little innovative thing the game can boast is its support system. When it is time for a unit to take action, a little number appears next to it. This number displays how many additional attacks you will have when the current unit takes action. If one unit has a number 2 next to them, when they attack two allies will attack the same target, essentially making three attacks in one. When an enemy attacks the friendly unit, the two supporting units will attack that enemy. The support count has a maximum of 3, so positioning your Zoids where they will benefit one another the most is key in obtaining victory. Especially considering that the enemy also uses the support count system. Believe me, getting trapped by enemy units with high support counts can be devastating.
The Zoids have a few different skins you can use to change the look of your squad. The downloadable pack contains the ďClassicĒ skins. These make your Zoids look like the Zoids in the anime. The Liger becomes blue with an orange cockpit, the Command Wolf becomes white with an orange cockpit and the Bison is black with green weapons.
While that game does have its share of disappointments, I still love this game. The Zoids fan inside me loves seeing my little on-screen Zoids running around, shooting up enemy Zoids. I was exactly the type of person this game was made for. Unfortunately, I donít think there are enough fans like me to ever get the other Xbox 360 Zoids game, Zoids Battle, or another Zoids game published over on our shores. Unless Tomy of Japan produces a new anime, this is that last Zoids game weíll ever see. The game could have been much better than it is, but regardless of its faults I love the game because itís a Zoids game. And thatís all I really wanted.