Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition • Page 2

Final Fright.

The weapons you wield appear to have been recently regurgitated by a seagull or discovered, alarmingly, in the moist centre of a chicken nugget, and, when you escape into the countryside, the landscape you'll be moving through resembles Postman Pat's Greendale during the Hieronymus Bosch years: gently rounded hills and cartoon trees competing for your attention with a gooseberry-skinned man in a teapot mask who really likes to eat other people.

Difficult art colliding with children's television: Gaudi's touched this place, but so has Sesame Street, by the looks of it. That's why the looming monsters you face off against often have something disconcertingly lovable about the flap of their upper lips, and why it's not uncommon to look down on the spindle-legged and splay-footed corpse of a beaten foe and think to yourself, “Cripes, did I just kick Big Bird's head in?”

Somehow, it never seems strange that, given this fascinating environment you're moving through, all you're ever asked to do is punch its inhabitants in the face. Zeno Clash has a looping, psychotherapy-charged fable of exile running through the middle of it, but it's utterly willing to keep its various parts separate.

That's probably smart, and this convergence of traditional game mechanic ideas and bizarre storytelling ambitions makes for a likeable - and entirely serviceable - muddle, coming off as if Final Fight had been intercut with passages from Summa Theologica and bits from that black and white film where the lady gets her eye sliced open by a barber. Somebody should really make that game, actually.

Oh, yes, and as an "Ultimate Edition" (although I suspect the ultimate Ultimate Edition for a game like Zeno Clash is delivered to your door lodged in the hollowed-out ribcage of a sinister albino crocodile wearing clown face-paint) this has a few extras thrown in that weren't in the original PC version.

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The Timed Challenge mode is new, but lacks the focus - and the delightful wobbly staircase animations - of the returning Tower Challenge.

There are a brace of new weapons, including a peppy shotgun and a couple of unpleasant new cudgels, a handful of additional attack moves, and co-op options, supporting both local and Live set-ups, allowing you to play through the original release's Tower Challenge with a friend.

Although split screen first-person brawling turns out to be a bit like trying to take part in a cheerleader pyramid while someone gives you electro-shock therapy - limbs flail all over the place, and the whole thing quickly becomes very distressing - the online option is a blast, taking the PC game's series of floor-by-floor gauntlets and making them considerably more hilarious. On top of all that, there's an entirely new mode (I think it's new anyway) that turns the game's single-player levels into yet more timed challenges.

New trinkets aside, what you make of Zeno Clash is ultimately going to come down to how much time you want to spend in its rotting and rather queasy world. For many, the six hours it will take to polish off the main campaign will be more than enough exposure to this pained motley of freaks, undersized elephants, and things that might once have been babies.

Others, though, may become utterly infatuated with ACE Team's art-school horror, pulled in by its punkish collages of textures and ideas, its hideous, strangely huggable monsters, and its truly brutal combat.

What can't be doubted is that, as a brawler, Zeno Clash delivers each punch in a way that can make other, more complex games look a little toothless, and as an XBLA title it's both a bold and an unlikely prospect. You'll need a hot bath and some strange dreams to get over this one, but then the same is true of Peggle.

8 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition Christian Donlan Final Fright. 2010-05-06T11:10:00+01:00 8 10

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