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June 2024

Zet Zillions

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: OTA IMON Studios
Release Date: May 23, 2024


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PC Review - 'Zet Zillions'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 23, 2024 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Zet Zillions is a single player story-based roguelike deckbuilder and space extravaganza where you use your cards to make entire planets go big-badda-BOOM!

It can be awfully difficult for a roguelike deck builder to stand out today. The genre is so overstuffed that even the best games on the market have to push for attention. That's why a strong first impression is so important. Zet Zillions is one of the most distinctive-looking deck builders I've had the luck of playing. Its electric and fanciful style instantly drew the eye. Thankfully, there's a pretty solid deck builder beneath the surface, so the beauty isn't just skin-deep.

Zet Zillions is set in a far distant future, where humanity has ventured to the stars and … well, they've been weird violent jerks, which has made them a lot of enemies. Players take control of the Baby Violence, a planet-slash-ship that is seeking a new home for humankind. Aided by the actual main character, an absurdly violent sharp-toothed soldier named Foam Gun, you set out to seek glory for humanity. Instead of finding glory, you find yourself in a bizarre galaxy that's gradually being devoured by a living planet called Thanatos. Your only choice is to find a way to escape from, and eventually defeat, Thanatos.

Zet Zillions prides itself on its atmosphere, and it's a wise thing to bet on. It's one of the most distinctively weird deck builders I've ever played, with an anime-slash-punk tone and atmosphere that I can only compare to something like FLCL. It's weird, goofy and eccentric, and it lands on it hard. It's technically set in the same universe (kind of) as OTA IMON Studios' last game, Wolfstride, but it's so far into the future that no knowledge is necessary to enjoy it. The only real criticism I can make is that the characters and tone are a lot, and if you don't enjoy them, I can see them making it tougher to enjoy the rest of the game.

The basic setup in Zet Zillions is the now-familiar Slay the Spire-style map. You move from spot to spot, encountering enemies or events, until you reach the end of a section and fight a boss. A pretty cool difference is that there's an FTL-style mechanic to it. Rather than having linear choices, you can go to any connecting node on the map. However, you're being chased by Thanatos, who is gradually rendering the area behind you uninhabitable, so you need to balance forward progression with side-steps to get the most out of each area.

Combat follows the somewhat-standard roguelike deck builder paradigm. You've got a series of cards and three energy to spend on those cards to either damage enemies or build up armor to defend yourself. However, Zet Zillions has a number of elements that separate it from standard deck builders. For one thing, aside from your energy, all of your resources are retained from turn to turn. This means any cards you draw or armor you build up stays on your character. This means that you have to reconsider how to spend your turns. Saving a card for another turn might be good, but spending it now to buff up your armor would give you more safety in the long run. Armor tends to be a lot more critical, and having a large build-up of armor is necessary to survive some of the game's tougher challenges.

Perhaps the biggest and most distinct mechanic in the game is the population mechanic. Your "character" is a giant planet that's filled to the brim with artificial life forms called trash. Since the Zet Zillions world is kind of an awful place, the trash are less like people and more like cannon fodder. You can chuck them at an enemy using various cards, and doing so fills up an enemy's population meter. When the meter is full, the enemy gets stunned for a turn. Doesn't sound so bad, right? The thing is that the population meter remains full. That means you need to use cards that cause a slight case of genocide to stun the enemy again. The basic starter deck is built around doing just this, with a special card that does multiple HP worth of damage for every one population on the planet — but kills them in the process.

Population also has another, slightly less terrifying purpose. Certain types of enemies are living, sentient planets. You can just blow them up, but they're also vulnerable to being colonized. Any planet whose population meter fills up is instantly defeated, and you get additional rewards for it. However, planets are usually designed to make doing that as difficult as possible. They have constantly regenerating armor, powerful moves and techniques, and other gimmicks designed to make you balance capture versus destruction.

We are back to the grotesque when we discuss the other major mechanic in Zet Zillions: card fusion. Most cards can fuse with other cards, and it's done by simply dragging one card onto another. Not all cards can fuse together, and some require specialized cards, but there are hundreds of dungeons. However, these fusions are not always pleasant. For example, you don't start with much in the way of direct damage. If you fuse trash with a piece of junk, you … well, the resulting material is called a "meatball," and you can toss it at the enemy to do damage. Ick. You don't permanently lose the cards or anything; it's effectively playing two cards for one special effect. Other fusions can create powerful attacks or defense options. Some cards get more powerful when fused, so you can use them as fodder and then get a better benefit the next time you draw them.

Fusion is a neat concept that suffers a bit from being a touch too obtuse. It takes a lot of experimentation to figure out effective fusions that are not meatballs, and some of them rely on relatively rare cards. It's a neat way to make you consider the balance of your deck, especially since retaining cards from turn to turn means that draw and discard have more value than they might in similar deck builders. Fusion is also important, as it is probably the most reliable way to deal actual HP damage until you get some strong cards, but once you do, it starts to lose some value.

Zet Zillions' combat system does come with some balance issues. In my playthroughs, it often felt very feast-or-famine. Some enemies are barely threats, and others can do absurd amounts of damage in a single turn with little counterplay. Sometimes, this is something you can mitigate pretty easily, such as armor bash skills that require you to reduce an enemy's armor to minimize damage. Others seem to basically demand an absurd amount of armor, or you lose 90 HP to a single attack. This seems clearly built around you saving a population stun and using the free turn to build armor, but it can feel absurd at times. It's not enough to ruin the game by any means, but it can lead to some losses feeling bad.

Zet Zillions looks great. The bright and colorful artwork, a marked departure from Wolfstride, instantly pops off the screen, and there's a ton of charm and style to the animations. Each enemy and planet have a distinctive — and frequently funny — look, and the card artwork is top-notch. It's easily one of the most visually pleasing deck builders I've ever played. Sometimes the animations and effects are a bit disconnected from one another. The soundtrack is similarly excellent, and the voice acting does wonders for bringing the characters to life. The characters frequently make inside jokes that read poorly but shine when voiced.

Zet Zillions stands out from the roguelike deck builder crowd, and that's almost entirely due to its distinctive style. It also has some genuinely cool and interesting new mechanics that demand approaching the game differently from the standard deck builder. There are some concerns I have about balance, and the characters can sometimes be a lot, but there's a ton to like in this charming and quirky title.

Score: 8.0/10

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