ZeroRanger feels like a lovingly assembled mix-tape featuring the best bits across all of shmup history. Developed by System Erasure and released Friday, it’s a vertically scrolling arcade shooter with a striking colour palette, simple control scheme and more knowing nods than a scholars-only metal concert. I spent a bit of yesterday playing it, and while I’ve not mastered it well enough to call any breakdown a review, I’ve had enough fun to easily recommend this to genre fans, and worth a shot at for the rest or you. Below, the launch trailer plus a demo.
If you can play ten seconds of ZeroRanger without spotting a sly reference to another shmup, then you’ve not played enough of them. While relatively short, ZeroRanger packs in the best bits of dozens (maybe hundreds) of its peers, with references running as deep as the choreography and bullet patterns used, to as overt as the first mini-boss being Gradius’s Vic Viper. The references are frequently playful, with bosses introduced through a Radiant Silvergun-style listing of their powers – a UI element that’s played with cleverly in the final stretch. There’s a lot I don’t want to spoil.
While ZeroRanger is relatively short even by shmup standards, it’s designed to be replayed a lot. After each of the first three levels, you’ll be asked to pick one of two weapons, and your choice will wildly impact how the rest of the game plays out. Enemies frequently approach from every direction (with warning given on back attacks) and having either a rear-firing weapon or side shots makes all the difference. Also, the two playable ships (both used in local co-op) each have slight variants on each gun. I’m sure there’s more to unlock, but I’ve still got to play more.
Being an arcade shmup, dying is just part of the ZeroRanger experience. That said, it’s relatively friendly for casual players. Play quickly unlocks a generous stock of continues (only taking you back a short distance when used), and you have the option to begin play on any stage reached, with any weapons previously found. That said, on top of the obligatory harder second loop, I gather there’s a ‘true’ ending awaiting those hardcore enough to complete the game without continuing – the fabled One Credit Clear. I’m not sure I’ll ever see it myself, but I’m sure going to try.