Like Mega Man 9 and 10, Dark Void Zero is a brand-new action platformer made in the 8-bit style of an NES game. The music and graphics won’t dazzle the senses of modern gamers, but anyone raised by Mario and Metroid will feel right at home here.
The gameplay is old-school too, with compass-point shooting, respawning bad guys, and moderately punishing difficulty. It’s not as hard as many older games, but if you cut your teeth on cushy modern titles, you’ll probably feel roughed up by the end of it. Run out of lives, and you stand to lose a lot of progress.
But the difficulty only makes success sweeter. You play as a lone soldier, infiltrating an alien world to stop them from invading Earth. To do this, you’ll fight through three sprawling Metroid-style levels, each with sealed-off sections requiring keycards and lever pulls to enter. You’re aided in your quest by none other than scientist Nikola Tesla himself, who radios you to give you tips and mark your objectives on your map.
Eat missile, Mother Brain!
The vicious aliens come in all shapes and sizes. By turns they fly, cling to walls, pace thoughtfully, or shoot heat-seeking missiles at you. Some even contain pink facehugger-like creatures that plop out when their host is killed, and slither disgustingly across the ground at you. When destroyed, enemies sometimes drop hearts that replenish your health. These come in very handy, particularly later in the game.
But what would a game with Nikola Tesla in it be without helpful gadgets? You can outfit yourself with a wide array of weapons and power-ups, but the coolest item by far is the jet pack. This is the game’s chief gimmick, and it’s great. Hovering through the air is a fun way to get around, and blasting baddies from above makes you feel like an untethered 8-bit superhero.
The controls work exceptionally, with an onscreen D-pad and reversible buttons to jump and shoot. You’ll spend most of your time with your jetpack’s hovering function enabled, so we’re grateful that the responsive controls allow for precise movement in all directions. Of course, it’s not quite as tight as the Nintendo DSi’s physical D-pad, but that’s no surprise.
Spread shot: For when it absolutely, positive has to die.
Capcom also included iDevice-friendly details, like instant saving when you receive a call or hit the home button. The next time you boot up the game, you’re exactly where you left off, which is great. If you prefer your games to be stress-free, you can skip to any of the three levels from the start, and try them out on easy mode.
Also included is a surprisingly detailed fictitious history about how Dark Void had been in development for the NES in the late 1980s, but was scrapped when the more powerful SNES was released. The explanation’s tongue-in-cheek tone will be appreciated by hardcore gamers, while non-geeks can skip right over it.
Younger gamers might not have the patience to make their way through a game that looks and feels 20 years old, but for people who grew up on Metroid, Contra, Ninja Gaiden and the like, it’s a great reminiscence.