Review: Zenji (Atari 5200)

In this review, we give the Atari 5200 game Zenji a spin. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 1984. This game has also been ported to other platforms at the time.

In this game, you are basically trying to make a path that causes every piece on the screen to turn green. Think of the path as building a circuit with every piece needing electricity. In order to get the pieces to line up correctly, you need to roll a face around the space. Once on a tile, you need to hold down a button and move the joystick to get the piece to rotate.

Along the way, you’ll encounter bonus point pieces. If you touch them in time, you’ll get some bonus points. In later levels, you’ll encounter the fire face. This elemental being needs to be avoided. Touching it means you lose a “face” (life). As you progress, there will be a second enemy. This is the spark. Like the fire elemental, the spark elemental will roll around and make life difficult for you. Avoid touching it to escape certain death.

If that weren’t enough, if you progress to a late enough level, they’ll also fire shots at you. This makes the game even more difficult. Your skill requirements will be diverted from simple completing the level to being able to take evasive maneuvers. You can move a piece and cut off a path from an on-coming elemental. Cutting off the path will also mean you avoid any weapons fire directed in your direction as well.

If you make it late enough in the game, you’ll eventually obtain 10,000 points. For every 10,000 points you earn, you’ll get a free life. This can significantly help the limited supply of 4 free lives from the beginning, though just getting to 10,000 is an achievement in and of itself.

At first, I was thinking that this game might be a little on the easy side. It took all of 3 or 4 spins before I solve a level or two. Of course, that might have ended up being luck. Given the randomly generated nature of this game, a level can be fairly straight forward or it can be exceedingly difficult. During a few attempts, a shooting enemy was trapped on a two piece island. Good luck timing your run in to get the piece rotated before you get shot into oblivion.

In addition to this, as levels progress, the enemies do move faster. It seems that when the enemies start shooting, this is the last phase. After this, it’s a simple case of enemies moving faster and faster until you are no longer able to keep ahead of them. So, the difficulty does gradually rise.

The good part about this game is the fact that it offers a brief explanation of everything at the beginning. This makes gameplay substantially easier to understand.

Another good point is the simplicity of it all. There’s hardly any kind of a learning curve to speak of. Still, this game does challenge with the later levels. Not a bad thing.

The random nature of the game does produce near impossible situations. The placement of enemies on tiny islands can be quite annoying. In some cases, you need to jump into the middle of the island and rotate a piece before getting out of the way. While one might think that drawing out the enemy would be a better idea, this isn’t always an option based on the piece configuration. If it’s two straight lines, making any kind of connection to begin with means certain death.

Another problem is the high bar to get a free life. At 10,000 points, getting to that points requires the player to beat a few levels after the enemies obtain the firepower capability. By this point, you are counting your blessings that you even have 1 free life left. Because of this, the game is somewhat tilted against the player in the long run, in spite of the easy start.

Generally speaking, this game is alright. The simplicity and easy to understand concept does make it easy to understand. The explanation at the beginning also helps a lot. The high bar for free lives and the random nature does, however, produce unfortunate difficulty spikes. The later levels, as a result, are tilted against the player pretty early on.

Graphically speaking, this game does lean towards a pretty basic look. The only notable thing in this area is the rolling effect. This effect is quite smooth on screen and makes for some decent eye-candy. Otherwise, nothing really stands out as particularly impressive.

The music definitely has that authentic generic Asian sound. While it would have been nice to have more than one track, the music is still certainly nice to hear. The jingles upon winning and losing were also nice. The sound effects really only take a presence when tallying up the score. There is the bassline sound for the time from time to time (not always when there is a bonus block on the stage), but the levels are otherwise devoid of sound effects. Decent overall.

Overall, this is a pretty good game. The simplicity and the explanation in the beginning makes this game very approachable. The difficulty curve does spike from time to time based on the random generation of the level and it does get steep pretty quick. Still, the gameplay is pretty decent in spite of some of the repetition of the later levels. The graphics are pretty basic, but the roll effect is nicely done. There is music and some of the sound effects between levels are nicely done, but there is hardly any sounds during play. Overall, a pretty good game.

Overall
High score: 18,945

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 76%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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