PC/Mac/Linux
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Game Info:

Zineth
Released: 2012
Available On: PC, Mac
Genre: Action/Sports
ESRB Rating: N/ANumber of Players: Single-player only
Price: Free

If this is what students in college make, I’m beginning to wonder why I pay for videogames at all.

You see, back in their 2012 spring semester of college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, seven students created Zineth as a student project and later uploaded it onto the internet. Since then, it’s received almost nothing but praise and comparisons to one of the most fondly remembered titles on the Dreamcast, Jet Set Radio. That’s a pretty encouraging start for a title that was developed by seven students over the course of a few months, but what’s really impressive is the product of that semester in motion.

Without resorting to feeble comparisons to Jet Set Radio, which wouldn't be entirely accurate, there really aren’t that many ways to describe Zineth. The developers describe it as, “a student game made over a few months meant to celebrate speed, movement, and twitter,” and excluding that last part, it’s a pretty apt description. There are ideas that could be compared to other series, but Zineth plays unlike anything I've ever seen. The basic gameplay could easily be compared to any number of skateboarding titles, but that would be a disservice. Whereas most put emphasis on style and insane tricks, Zineth is all about style and insane speed. By removing all of the unnecessary frills, and only leaving in three “tricks” (grinding, wall-riding, and increasing gravity), the developers have shifted the focus squarely on to acceleration and movement.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Incredible sense of speed, unique art direction, impressive level design
Weak Points: Twitchy keyboard controls, only obtainable through questionable download sites, poorly explained game mechanics
Moral Warnings: Some mild cursing and violence

Everything in Zineth is about momentum. It’s easy to get up to 100 (generic speed units), but after that, additional effort is required. All the aforementioned tricks all generate speed, but there’s a constant battle to gain more while still struggling to control the rather twitchy, cybernetic suit-wearing cowboy that Zineth calls its protagonist. And, no, I’m not going explain that last statement; you’ll thank me later.

After choosing a control style (keyboard or gamepad; I chose keyboard), and hopefully completing the inadequate explanation of the game’s mechanics that passes for a tutorial, the player is left to discover the world for themselves. There are 13 missions, along with nearly 100 collectables, but Zineth tends to leave players as they are, and only interrupts gameplay with small “email” notifications that can be accessed through the in-game phone. 

This introduces another concept: the cellphone (hopefully you already know what that is), but it works a little differently here. Instead of being used mainly for communication (though mission objectives and pseudo-emails are received through it), the cellphone’s main purpose is for a small Pokémon-esque mini-game that can be played with NPCs scattered across the world. Just as in that other game though, the creatures need to be upgraded with money gained from finding collectables and beating other trainers.

Normally, I’d just shrug off an addition like this and say “meh, just more filler”, but what’s never told to the players is that this is one of the title’s central mechanics—it’s needed to beat the game. Despite all of the time inevitably spent racing around the city and surrounding desert, completing missions, this is what’s required to accomplish the final objective. That alone is irritating, since the associated mini-game isn’t all that fun, but it becomes even more of a nuisance for newcomers since it’s never explained.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 92%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Then again, most of the structured content (which isn’t very much) tends to end up as more of a nuisance than anything anyway. Despite the creativity present in the mechanics, mission objectives are bland and uninspired. Race through x number of checkpoints, score 5,000 points in the monster battle mini-game, deliver x magazines to x number of brain-dead citizens—it’s monotony incarnate.

Zineth isn’t fun because of what the developers have given the player, but because of what can be done with what’s been given. The world of Zineth isn’t just begging to be explored; it’s waiting to be conquered. Most of the world is in plain view, but getting there is the challenge. Right from the title’s onset, there are goals planted subliminally in the player’s mind. Buildings loom in the distance, and although it’s easy to get to them, actual effort is required to discover what’s on top of them. 

The game doesn’t explain itself to players, and while I’m sure many will be frustrated by this (including, at times, this reviewer), I found it to be refreshing. Granted, there were some mission objectives that were far too vague, and many important elements aren’t nearly explained well enough, but exploring the colorful, expansive world is an absolute treat. I wasn’t told that a secret area lay beneath the desert; I found it, and I didn’t know that the spire off in the distance could be reached, let alone climbed, but I managed to do both.

I also managed to avoid getting a computer virus; since, unfortunately, the only way to acquire Zineth is through some less than virus-free download sites. As with all downloads on the internet, caution is advised. However, assuming you can safely download the title through a reputable source, there isn’t too much to complain about in the moral section. I found the game to be fairly safe with only a few very minor curses and some cartoon violence in the creature battle mini-game.

Zineth is an interesting case. Despite all of its flaws, which would be devastating to most games, it’s not only fun, it’s one of the most worthwhile titles I’ve played in months. The blistering speeds, coupled with a beautiful cel-shaded art style in a vast, open world make this one of the most captivating indie games I’ve seen this year.

As a student project, I think this absolutely deserves an A, and I’m keenly interested in seeing what the team has in store next, but as a consumer product, it’s a decidedly mixed affair. The lack of direction and content, not to mention the twitchy (but workable) controls, display the constraints the team had to deal with as students. That being said, what they accomplished during one semester is amazing, and as a free download, this is absolutely worth the time and effort to play—as long as your antivirus software is up to date.

-Nate DaZombie

About the Author

Nate DaZombie

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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