BadLand Publishing and developer Infinigon present Zenith for review on the Nintendo Switch. Zenith is a port of the PC title of the same name. It uses sarcasm-laden dialogue aimed at adults to add flavor in an action-RPG adventure.
Zenith is straightforward in its gameplay and combat. The player controls Argus Windell, frequently drunk and often annoyed at the adventure he’s on, complete with a hefty amount of slashing, punching, or hacking needed. A rudimentary upgrade system allows the player to add some bonuses to their attacking style of choice but there’s little foresight needed beyond pressing the attack button a lot and dodging. What will be more up for debate is the dialogue, a mixture of self-aware references to other series and expletives to give Zenith an edge other titles don’t have, and a pessimistic view of how the world may end up.
Sarcasm is mostly dead in our digital age where what you are online is what you are as our existence is dictated by these cubes. Zenith, in a sense, is a self-conscious stab to try and reclaim harsh sarcasm in the name of humor by lambasting the tropes of action RPGs and other long running series such as Final Fantasy. The problem is, for every harsh if funny bit of gameplay like a long-suffering elf who just won’t stop being a jerk, there’s reams of dialogue with expletives for expletives sake while copying lines from other games only to interrupt them for more expletives.
The cathartic power of cursing loses its luster when it feels like every other line is more lazily written than pointedly constructed. This is a shame when Zenith dips into some genuinely interesting pessimism about RPGs and the religious zeal of their fandoms. One hilarious part involves rats that evolved thanks to a god that is now killing them in the flesh. These elements are cutting in a way the tiresome dips into cursing are not.
This might all be reclaimed with great gameplay but Zenith‘s calling card is its sarcasm and humor. Since that’s already on shaky ground, it came as a disappointment that all combat devolves into mashing the same button while running around in a circle. That might work if there were interesting environments to have to take into consideration when positioning yourself to fight. But while the motif of the environment may change slightly, the combat philosophy using the environment remains the same. Circle around, hit, circle around, hit. Repeat until you see the loading symbol that will come to haunt the overall experience.
Whether the issues present in Zenith were also present in the PC version I can’t assert as I haven’t played the PC version. What I can write with certainty is it often felt as though I was spending an equivalent time with the loading symbol as playing the game. This became a huge annoyance when traveling the world map where I could technically see random encounters coming. But even purposely avoiding them would lead me to see that darn loading symbol in an empty field. Then there’s the array of graphical glitches that run the gamut from harmless and hilarious. Some examples are a recently killed enemy continues sliding off-screen into oblivion, and headache-inducing, like when the outline around a character clipped into the wall cuts through all the other graphics.
Sarcasm and "adult" writing are difficult to pull off and Zenith rarely succeeds. When it does, there's a bite and wit to the experience that I hope can be extracted out for future titles. But the dull hack 'n slash, tiresome repetition of cursing in the dialogue, and chaotically inconsistent graphical presentation aren't enough to keep this title from tipping off into frustrating territory.
- Welcome moments of clever writing throughout the game that parallel nicely with some way too devoted RPG fandoms.
- Consistently awful dialogue with cursing clumsily weighing down what good bits exist.
- Circle then slash into infinity with combat that takes way too long to load and never improves on the first few minutes.
- Awful graphical glitches in just about every scene that range from character models forever jittering mid-air to outlines clipping through everything else to monsters sliding into oblivion.
Do Not Rescuscitate