The shoot-’em-up genre continues to attempt returning to fashion. Never quite making the mainstream, there’s the regular shots of hope that fail to blossom in the sales charts. But occasionally a title comes along that grabs the attention; Ikaruga and Sine Mora stole more headlines than anyone might have expected. Z-Warp sadly hasn’t entered the gaming conscious in the same fashion. However, overlooking it would certainly be a mistake.
This is traditional a shoot-’em-up experience as you could possibly expect. It’s bullet hell, of that there’s no doubt. Often your ability to manoeuvre will be a greater deciding factor in your success than that of your aim. It’s not enough to simply dart about pumping the shoot button; even on the easiest difficulty setting.
Z-Warp offers easy, medium and hardcore difficulties. All of which will be challenging to newcomers. Genre stalwarts however, should jump straight in at hardcore, as is suggested by the game’s menu system itself. The game scrolls vertically, and so on a modern widescreen TV there’s a lot of black space. Furthermore, the range at which you can see is very limited. Given the chunky sprites and frequently huge size of the bullets heading in your direction, you’d better practice that pixel-perfect positioning technique.
Thankfully the player is given a few tricks to tackle the challenge ahead. Basic fire is very quick and has a wide spread. Holding the shoot button will allow for a continuous beam of high damage, but will slow you down dramatically. There’s also a recharging bomb, which is super useful.
The player will have a circle radiating our from their ship at all times. When not full, the bomb will destroy all bullets within the radius. However, if fully charged (which only takes a few seconds) it will also destroy any enemies in the radius. Throughout the basic five stages this is useful, however it really comes into play during the boss fights. Every boss behaves differently, and thus requires a different technique to defeat. Using your bombs to give you some breathing space from the screen-filling bullet arrays or additional enemy summons is essential.
Z-Warp is a fantastically fun addition to the shoot-’em-up genre. Much like Habroxia 2, it never dares to challenge preconceptions like Ikaruga insisted or even evolve the formula like Sine Mora, but for fans it’ll present just as fun a weekend of gaming. The Endless mode manages to mix things up further by throwing a random difficulty setting at you every level, which for those passionate about achieving high scores will most definitely be an intensive time sink.