Submitted August 19th, 2012
by SPK

Dark Void Zero

Originally a joke response to the PS3/X360/PC release Dark Void, then a casual project based on said joke, and finally the hit retro throwback which would overshadow its parent title, the DSiWare release Dark Void Zero is a downloadable dream, featuring old school presentation and gameplay with all the refinement of a modern effort.

The story is told through a cut scene before each level, and takes a more sci-fi-based and less historical approach than its console counterpart. The Watchers are an alien race that has destroyed its own planet and now lives in the Void between it and earth, intending to take the latter for their own. After building a series of unreliable portals to earth in an attempt to infiltrate the planet, the aliens have succeeded is creating Portal X. Some humans, the Survivors, exist in the Void and have taken to arms against these adversaries, but have been defeated. Now, Earth-born scientist Nikola Tesla has entrusted Rusty, the first human ever born in the Void and a test-pilot, with the mission of putting Portal X out of commission once and for all, arming the soldier with all the gadgetry he could invent.

Rusty's controls are solid, his H.E.R.O.-like rocket pack bringing the greatest departure from regular platforming to the mix. With 'A' to jump and 'B' to fire whatever gun he has at the moment, the player can also: while in possession of the rocket pack, hold 'A' to propel himself upward until the button is let go; while having the same item, double-tap the 'A' button to hover in place and use the D-pad to move in a more stable fashion; and fire his eight-directional gun by aiming with the D-pad a la Samus Aran. He can only hold one weapon at a time, those available being: the Liberator, the weak standard gun he starts with; Disintegrator, which creates a powerful shot but only at close-range; Pulverizor, which can take down destructible walls but can't be fired with rapidity; Teleforce Lance, a beam which can pass through walls; and Hypercoil, the best gun for combat which fires rapid, powerful shots but overheats if used for more than a couple seconds. Some temporary side-weapons include: EM-Pulse, which creates a blast around Rusty every time his gun is fired; Force Field, which surrounds the rocket-powered protagonist and blocks enemy fire but still allows him to be hurt by his surroundings; and the Electrified Field, which destroys any enemy that comes too close. Upgrades include: the Ammo Doubler, which lets the first-born human of the Void fire with greater rapidity; and the Tri-deflector, which fires two extra beams on either side of the regular shot for a three-pronged attack. Though the rocket pack seems rather nifty and some weapons better than others, the nature of their placement within the map forces the player to downgrade at certain points.

Each of the game's 3 maps is a mini-Metroidvania based around unlocking paths by opening doors and using particular weapons and power-ups to one's advantage. The level design is quite tight, with none of a given level seeming arbitrary or inserted just to fill space and without any careful thought. The player earns points which end up affording him or her lives at certain milestones. In gaining points, it never hurts to collect as many of the 100 Tech Points - which take the form of yellow orbs - scattered across each level, or to fulfill as many of the 5 parts to the secondary objective - collecting five items or destroying five things - as possible; however, these are not necessary to completing the game and can be a fatal distraction for less experienced players. In this way, there's a collection-based element with an old-school payoff. At the end of each level, Rusty must fight a battle in space against the Dark Guardian Mark I, II, and then III, these being very fast-paced battles against a foe which stays fundamentally the same but gets tougher after each level. There are also 3 difficulties, though they don't change too much beyond how many hits it takes to kill an enemy with a weaker weapon or the like: in short, the levels will be the same and the gameplay won't be that much different. It's a difficult game on average, the first level being hard, the second being a bit harder, and the final level being much easier than the preceding ones due to the wealth of health replenishes and mostly-convenient enemy placement.

The graphics are just like that of a Nintendo Entertainment System game, with simple character design and textures; but this only serves to support the tone and charisma that Other Ocean intended for the game. The score by Bear McCreary, who also orchestrated the console Dark Void release, is authentically NES-sounding. This is some truly great work, encapsulating that classic flavor with tracks such as the heroic science-fiction 'Dark Void Main Theme' and the catchy yet motivating and bittersweet 'Valley of Doom', the suspenseful 'Scientific Complex' and the creepy 'Inner Sanctum'. McCreary's self-imposed limitations forced him to go with simpler, catchier tunes, making this game's score an instant classic.

Dark Void Zero is a wonderful love letter to old school gaming, standing tall alongside other greats such as Mega Man 9. Though it hearkens back to a younger and more simple video game climate, it isn't inhibited by the staple issues of that era; in this way, it takes the smooth gameplay standards of modern gaming and combines it with the charm of the classics, never succumbing to the drawbacks of either approach. Other Ocean would soon proudly accept the torch to the handheld Spider-Man license, though their efforts would not have the same fire as Griptonite's did.

- Faithful NES-based visuals   - With only 3 levels, the adventure isn't very long
- Glorious chiptune score  
- A true old-school challenge  
- Rocket pack gameplay that would make John Van Ryzin proud  
- Carefully thought-out level design  

Final Rating: 5 out of 5

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