1 Difficulty level
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Ergostudios Games
Published by Ergostudios Games in 2010
Another lazy evening trying to catch up with a couple of months of XBLIG releases, and there I was choosing another little shmup to pass the time while a new batch of trial downloads went on in the background. Zap Zap: Pew Pew (don’t laugh) was the chosen one. A humble vertical romp built completely over a retro mindset, with a simplicity that leads me to believe it might have been merely an exercise in programming. A joke to many but a charm to some, is it to be disregarded as unworthy of one’s time? Suffice it to say that within a plethora of games made out of scarce resources this one surely ranks above the average. In fact, it’s a nice way to spend an hour or so and sink back into the realms of 80s nostalgia.
This game is a short one. There are 24 stages but they all go by in a snap. Some of them have bosses, most of them don’t. Bare bones graphics dictate the flow, minimalistic music sets the vibe and shallow humor establishes the interaction within the story, since the main motivation for you to play the game is to gain access to the secrets of the universe. It's not a vertizontal and it looks and plays like Galaga at times, but a few tricks here and there offer some interesting albeit brief shooting moments. It’s so lighthearted in tone that you don’t even mind the amount of "air" in the action, an aspect that makes it an easy gateway for new-gen players who want to know how old-style shmups actually play.
Oops!!! Isn't this a vertical shooter?!?
Permanent firepower consists of a pea shot, a mine layer and a tractor beam. All weapons are activated with dedicated buttons, but the tractor beam and the mine layer are only acquired later in the game. Laying mines is used mainly to take care of enemies coming from behind, but since mines scroll down slowly they can also be used to hit enemies coming from the top of the screen. The tractor beam works just like in Zero Wing, grabbing whatever enemy is in front of the ship and releasing it if you will. However, here it’s much more useful for offense than defense. Special icons provide temporary upgrades that last for one stage only, and consist of three-way shots and exploding mines. Three-way is great, but the exploding mines cause more confusion than practical advantage. The final icon you’ll come across is the occasional extra life (1UP).
Zap Zap had the potential to be a great indie game. The incremental ideas implemented stage after stage show a fresh creativity, it only needed a bit of fleshing out to evolve into full-blown concepts for a meatier shmup. I can forgive the lack of support for the D-pad, the only unforgivable flaw is the poor (every enemy is worth only a single point) and broken scoring system (just park your ship below one of the respawning cells of the last boss and blast away for whatever score you want to achieve). Considering these drawbacks and the wasted gameplay potential it’s hard not to think of the game as a letdown, but let’s try to highlight the good parts in it, starting with the bosses. They’re a treat and a couple of them will hack your ship’s controls so that it behaves erratically. The first one will have you spinning as he fires a two-way spread while enemies pass by from below and from the sides. Later on a large spaceship will do something unexpected and switch control functions with the player: you're still able to fire but all movement inputs will be transferred over to the boss, meaning you must avoid hitting your own ship as it moves around at (the boss’s) will. It surely messes your head during a try or two. A few bosses will require the player to use mines on the back of their weak spots to be damaged. Some enemies/walls will only be destroyed if you grab something with the tractor beam and get aggressive on them.
One person missed that last part and set out on a journey
(courtesy of YouTube user PickHutHG)
(courtesy of YouTube user PickHutHG)
Previously played stages can be directly selected for practicing, shortening the time to beat the game even more. The built-in autofire is nice but doesn't have a fast firing rate, so mashing the button might be necessary in certain areas. Despite the extreme simplicity the game doesn’t sound derivative when compared to the classics of old, and while the poor production values might scare some people off the fun factor doesn’t disappoint those who’re willing to support a decent effort from an indie developer. Besides the aforementioned influences there’s also a quick nod in the gameplay to the classic Demon Attack, and I could swear one of the tunes is directly lifted from the contemporary Space Invaders - Infinity Gene (note: Zap Zap was released between the iOS and XBLA/PSN versions of Taito’s classic revival title).
Contrary to what its name suggests, the game doesn't have much in the way of sound effects to properly match the title. The secrets of the universe weren't that exciting after all, but my hour of easy fun with Zap Zap: Pew Pew ended with the following final score.