Some time ago I had the pleasure to review a game called Zombie Smashers X2, a Double Dragon style beat-em-up with bizarre graphics, a wicked sense of humour and optional blood. When I discovered Ska Software had submitted another game for review I was understandably excited.
I was rather shocked by the difference. ZXS3: Ninjastarmageddon is a very, very different game - think "Flatspace on acid". In ZXS3 you take control of a vehicle with a driver and a gunner (riding shotgun, quite literally) and fly through space trading, fighting, plundering and completing missions. Zombies and Ninjas are both up there with you - opposite sides of a cold war, largely staying on their own sides of the universe.
Perhaps I should mention at this point that you aren't flying in spaceships. As the screenshots indicate, the choice of vessels includes cars, motorbikes and sailing ships. Weapons include lasers, rocket launchers and oversize shotguns. Even the cargo is bonkers - you can trade cheese, paper, tapes, even kittens. "Industrial Goods" a la Frontier there are none.
You can play ZSX3 in two different modes. Arcade Mode is a 3D immersive mode in which you view the action from just behind your craft. The addition of an up/down vector does, however, make aiming a tad more difficult. Conversely there is Classic Mode, a top-down 2D view with a choice of keyboard or follow-the-mouse turning. Combat is somewhat easier in this mode but you lose out on long range vision, and getting 'above' derelict ships is a lot tougher.
I can tell you that the graphics are delightful. The crazy cartoon style of the previous Zombie Smashers game continues here in glorious 3D and meets a range of lighting and particle effects. Character faces are perhaps the weakest area here but they remain in keeping with the overall style. Be warned that some graphics chipsets seem to have problems here - my laptop is one of a small number of computers that made everything black unless at a distance. The developers are looking into this problem as I type, so hopefully it will soon be fixed.
Soundwise Ska Software have once again provided a range of indie music (heavily punk influenced). The title music is LOUD. There are "hard" and "soft" ingame tunes for suitably hard or soft game events and, as these are mpeg files, you can play them outside the game if you wish (or add your own). There's also the usual range of sound effects.
It is recommended that you start off with the Tutorial. Some people will rush in without doing so and will soon be utterly lost. ZSX3 has a fair smattering of controls, though by no means as many as I've known some games to have, and having Diggs talk you through basic flight is a very good idea. Beyond the controls, the biggest playability hurdle is space combat, which is utterly manic. Slower computers will suffer during big battles! Strangely this frenzy doesn't seem to put me off, perhaps because all ships have some shielding and armour and can withstand a fair amount of punishment before vanishing in a ball of flame, making combat rather fun.
As for longevity - it's taken me over a week to write the first draft of this review, a period in which I have lost two weekends to chasing pirates and plundering derelicts. I'm taking on missions, trading cargo and recently bought my first capital ship. This game is seriously addictive and I can hear its siren call now as I type these words... play me... play me... Must resist! Must finish review!
Highly enjoyable as ZSX3 is, there are a few faults. One particularly odd hiccup is the way that, when I tried resizing my screen from 800x600 to 640x480, I discovered the edge of the Monster Shipyard statistics box went off the screen. Oops. Capital ships can tractor up derelicts - but doing so in Classic Mode is hazardous, since it is tricky to get "above" them rather than bumping into them. Heavy action can slow things down tremendously, including such useful controls in these circumstances as the booster.
Overall, I'm immensely pleased with ZSX3. This is a game that is likely to keep me away from work, food and sleep for some time to come. The demo is a little large, so anyone still with a dialup connection should take note. Loopy, fun and not enslaved to the laws of physics, this is a space trading game even those that hate space trading games should love.
Keywords: zsx3: ninjastarmageddon! review, ska software reviews, ska software games, zsx3: ninjastarmageddon! scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.