Box Shot
Platform: Sega Master System
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Sega
Genre: Action/Adventure
Players: 1
Published Date 1986
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

Zillion qualifies as the first anime-style game I ever played. (There was an anime video series of Zillion, which I never got to see, but have always been curious about. I know for a fact that the guns used inspired the Sega Zapper light gun.) Anyway, it's a long and tough game, but it gets my vote as one of the better SMS games out there.

The main character is J.J., a cool looking anime guy with short black hair and a nifty red suit (ever since I was six, I always thought J.J. looked awesome.) Your prime objectice is to infiltate the evil Norse Empire HQ, find the five master computer disks, insert them into the main computer (which sets it to self-destruct) and get the hell out of there. That's not your only objective either; your comrades, Apple and Champ have also been kidnapped and you've gotta save them. They have their own statistics and powers too (Apple is more agile but weak; Champ always has a level 3 gun and take lots of hit but is slow).

The Norse underground based is a comprised primarily of various rooms. In each of these rooms there are cylinders can be destroyed when shooting at them. By investigating any destroyed cylinders, you get a passcode. Each room has four passcodes to find whcih can then be inputted into the computer to open the door to the next room. Basically, it just involves a bit of memorization; the symbols for the passcodes look forward but are actually just variations on the standard base-10 digit system.

There are also some other things you find in these cylinders: Bread (life up), Opa-Opas (the Fantasy Zone hero will increase you level, giving more life, jumping ability and stuff like that), or ID cards. ID Cards can be put in the computers to operate a certain function (like turning off the electric barriers, displaying a map of the complex or stopping the automatic guns.) The catch is, once you use the ID card, it's gone. Still, there's a big supply of them throughout the course of the game, so you really needn't worry about running out. Throughout the base you need to keep your eye open for gun upgrades, as you need them to break open more powerful cylinders.

The biggest problem with Zillion has to be its length. The base is huge and it takes a good three to four hours to beat. So what's the deal? There's no save function. There's no password function. Each time you play, you need to start all the way over. There's not even unlimited continues; you do get resurrected three times if you die, but once you're done with that, it's game over. The one time I actually played Zillion all the way through and made it to the last (and only) boss, a huge dragon-monster, I died and was out of continues. So that was it. All that time gone to waste. Needless to say, I was crushed. With the adventure of emulators, it's almost better just to play it on your computer, just so you can save and load the game at any time.

The characters are fairly large and well animated, though they aren't as detailed as they should be. The portraits of the characters are quite cool though. However, the backgrounds are pretty cool. There are essentially three sections of the base, each identified with their own background. The first area is a creepy, sterile looking environment, but second area has a blood-red wall that is downright scary. Everything really LOOKS like the base of an evil underground empire.

There are really only two pieces of music: the title music and the underground music. You'll be listening to the latter tune for the majority of the game, but surprisingly, it doesn't get repetetive; it's a great theme, in fact. Some of the sound effects are a bit weak, like when you jump or take damage, but the explosions and gun shots are pretty cool.

The controls could've used a bit of tweaking. Before jumping, you character pauses for a split second. Also, there are many instances where you have to jump over a land mine in an enclosed space....this is very difficult when you have almost no head room. Similarly, when you're fighting in a corridor, you can try to duck under the shots of the Norse soldiers; but if they duck and it shoot, there's not much you can do to dodge it. This makes gameplay rather tough at the beginning of the game when you have a crappy gun; fortunately, it gets better as time progressed (the most powerful gun can destroy land mines without you having to jump over them.)

Sure, you'll need to set aside an afternoon to play it, and if you lose you may be tempted to set fire to your Master System, but Zillion is still an enjoyable experience. Old-time SMS fans should hunt this classic (and avoid the utterly crappy sequel.)