Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Zero4 Champ

Media Rings

Having already played its CD sequel by the time I purchased the original Zero4 Champ, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the card has to offer. I was excited about the apparent prospect of another mini-games-heavy adventure providing context for brief-but-strategy-involving racing sequences. Indeed, straight-ahead one-on-one speed competitions constitute Z4C's main events...

...but there isn't much of an adventure to experience here. Money must still be earned for the acquisition of parts and souped-up vehicles...

...but options as to how you may accrue the requisite fortune are few. Much of your time will be spent loitering in a lame arcade or stumbling about dark hallways in search of odd miscreants to pummel.

Despite the limited nature and disappointing simplicity of the affair, players unable to read Japanese will find that the menus here--sadly and ironically enough--aren't as easy to figure out and navigate as those in the much more involving followup.

A fine sense of humor is one trait this title does share with its sequel, however. Funny-looking fellows and bumbling hooligans star in chuckle-inducing sketches that grant the repetitive goings-on a little personality...

...and there's even a smidgen of smut for those on the lookout for such things.

The spirited soundtrack does what it can to help matters and hilariously irritates a mild-mannered female character by becoming Smoke on the Water-ish during one of the more amusing sequences.

Unfortunately, I hardly found it hilarious that I myself was irritated by the game's repetitiveness and dearth of options. Understand that this isn't merely a case of a title paling in comparison with its advanced successor. Zero4 Champ would prove slightly interesting but ultimately dull even if it hadn't been followed by a sequel it simply can't compare with.

The real winners are the folks who go right to Zero4 Champ II.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Zero4 Champ II

Media Rings
Super CD-ROM

I hadn't yet played its HuCard-based predecessor when I first gave Zero4 Champ II a go, and I knew very little about the Zero4 series in general. I was quite surprised by how enjoyable the game ended up being--and by how little of the enjoyment I got out of it was owed to the seemingly salient driving element. Z4C2's straight-line street races occur only sporadically in its main play mode and conclude in matters of mere seconds.

This is a "racer" that makes its mark by exploring a number of different genres as it sends you on a point-and-click-based adventure across America. You'll enlist the help of--and compete against--lots of interesting (and often quirky) characters in your endeavor to become a champion of the curve-less courses...

...and frequently find yourself in strange situations, with humorous moments aplenty.

Between parleys with crazy folk, you'll play plenty of mini-games. The tasks presented to you are disparate: you'll place bets on auto races and blackjack hands, undertake dangerous delivery missions, prepare fast-food "delicacies," walk dogs, feed animals, and blast targets.

Most appealing of all are the first-person role-playing sequences. We're hardly talking Might & Magic here, but the battle system lends to quick combat, and there are plenty of different enemy types to take on. Even full-fledged dungeon crawlers often come up lacking in these areas.

Though it has you engage in assorted hijinks and side-events, Z4C2 ultimately does revolve around racing. The brevity and mechanical simplicity of the contests belie the fact that strategy must be employed in regards to car and part selection, course condition, and gear switching.

Truth be told, Zero4 Champ II doesn't amaze with any one of its individual components. Taking a mutt for a walk and providing lizards with grub are activities that hardly qualify as exciting on their own. But the game succeeds because it offers not merely variety in gameplay but exercises that are quite different from those that players are typically asked to take part in. The exhilaration lies not simply in participating in what's going on but in anticipating what's to come. The abundant humor and charm and the occasional bits of nice music round out what's (perhaps surprisingly) a very cool title.