Format: PC/Steam
Developer: The Dude Games
Publisher: The Dude Games
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up, Shooter

Who can save the world from the Titans? Zeus, son of a Titan, is just the god to do it. With a mastery of lightning, Zeus isn’t afraid to punch his way across Greece to the home of the Titans on Olympus.

Zeus Begins is a retro influenced beat ‘em up along the lines of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, with some shooter elements added in for good measure. Players control Zeus as he works his way across Greece to take down his father Cronos and the other Titans. The game is developed and published by The Dude Games (Facebook).

The action primarily takes place in a side scrolling beat ‘em up format. Zeus moves across the screen, taking on waves of enemies to progress to the end of the level. At their disposal players have  a punch and a kick. A Golden Axe-esque power system is also included, with players collecting lightning bolts to power a special lightning ability.

Levels have their own themes and unique enemies, and are broken up into one or two areas. In typical beat ‘em up fashion each level ends with a boss fight, as players pit themselves against a mythological monster plus waves of generic foes.

Between beat ‘em up levels are top down shooter sequences, which represent Zeus travelling from one location to the next. The player can move Zeus around the screen and fire lightning balls at incoming enemies. Much like the fighting levels, these shooter portions also end with a boss fight.

Zeus Begins

Visually the game utilises a heavily simplified pixel art aesthetic which leans towards a cartoonish look. Characters are quite rounded, with basic details and minimal animation. The level artwork continues the pixel style, though is largely devoid of features that give a sense about the world. While the sound is a generic pseudo-chip tunes arrangement.

Zeus Begins is obviously retro inspired, though in the loosest sense of the phrase. To me being inspired by retro games to create a new title is drawing on the fundamentals of the past designs and repurposing them for modern audiences. That doesn’t really happen here.

For one thing the beat ‘em up elements are extremely basic. Zeus can perform a single punch, and a single kick. The character can’t jump, run, or do many of the other very basic staples of beat ‘em ups.  Enemies change as the player moves through the levels, but not enough that this varies the gameplay in any way. Players will always just be wailing on them with the same two moves.

Collision detection is way off. Some enemies hit Zeus from baffling angles, or distances that seem like the character is way too far away. The player only has to glance at objects to collect them, which isn’t helpful when they are purposely trying to avoid them as part of a tactical use of resources. Plus some enemies just randomly turn invisible, leaving the player to run around the level trying to avoid attacks from a vanished opponent.

Zeus Begins

The shooter portions are an interesting way of transitioning from one beat ‘em up area to the next, but it isn’t executed in a responsive way. It feels too loose and floaty, sitting starkly against the weightier fighting mechanics. There also isn’t a lot to do in these shooter levels, apart from hold down the fire button and sweep side-to-side.

Very strange decisions litter the game. Zeus’ kick is performed in the opposite direction that he is facing. Which may be helpful in a faster and more responsive game, but in this, just makes the kick a hardly used vestigial limb. The menus are confusing to navigate, relying on different button presses to activate certain sections. And to top it all off there are no setting options for the games video or sound.

I probably sound like I am ripping on Zeus Begins bad. And maybe I am. But it isn’t a bad game. It just isn’t very good either. The problem is that the negative aspects are only countered by elements that are acceptable at best. There are some quite cool ideas in here, but they are barely implemented. And when they are, they drown in the problems of the rest of the game.

To top this all off, at $14.50, the asking price is way too much for the threadbare experience on offer. There is nothing players can get from Zeus Begins that they couldn’t get from the classics, or the myriad of modern interpretations, at a fraction of the cost. Put your time and energy elsewhere.

Zeus Begins is available now on PC through Steam.

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