Z-Warp brings the simplicity of retro vertical shoot ‘em ups to the living room with a neon sci-fi horror aesthetic and an innovative bomb mechanic that caught me by surprise for all the right reasons.
Release Date: 6th April 2022
Developer: Panda Indie Studio
Availability: PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
The story is wafer-thin and sees your pilot navigating the gross innards of a giant space monster in the hope of retrieving a missing black box. It’s a serviceable yet forgettable plot for a game that’s all about the shooting. Basic shoot ‘em rules apply in Z-Warp. Tapping the fire button produces a wide spread of bullets from your ship while holding the fire button produces a concentrated, roaring column of energy at the expense of a severely reduced movement speed. Players need to effectively use both shooting styles to destroy the waves of oncoming enemies.
Mixing things up a little was the aforementioned bomb mechanic. Unlike other retro shoot ‘em ups where bombs are a rare commodity for use in only the direst of circumstances, Z-Warp wants you to bomb constantly. The bombs in Z-Warp are unlimited and automatically replenish with a short cooldown.
The bombs have two stages of charge, the first allows players to quickly destroy all projectiles in the radius around them and the second, fully charged bomb, deals damage to enemies, more often than not killing basic enemies and doing significant damage to bosses. There is strategy in bomb deployment as poorly timed detonations will remove your defences when faced with a barrage of bullets that envelops the screen and there’s a huge amount of fun to be had when you get it right.
Z-Warp’s story mode consists of 5 levels that weave around the insides of the space monster. Each level is relatively short and structured in the same way with waves of enemy ships and aliens pouring onto the screen before you face off against the level boss. The whole story can be completed in around 20 minutes but there are multiple difficulty levels available to provide an extra challenge to adventurous pilots. I personally only found myself completing successful runs on the lowest difficulty setting as the harder difficulties overwhelmed me as my creaking digits and slow reflexes prevented me from circumventing the alien onslaught.
Endless mode, the only other mode in the game allows you to replay the same levels from the story mode with a varying difficulty level. When the final boss is defeated in this mode players are returned to the first level with a small difficulty bump. The action keeps going until all credits are lost. Endless is really there for expert players to jump into and the online leaderboards provide motivation to keep shooting away.
Generally Z-Warp looks the part with the retro graphics echoing the appearance of a game that could have been released on the fourth generation of consoles however performance does become an issue in scenes with a plethora of bullets and explosions and slows down to a crawl during some boss fights, even on the PS5. Some of the visual effects detract from the experience with your charged laser being a prolific offender as its beam can actively hide enemies from view. The addition of a tate mode is welcome although without any screen scaling options it felt a little redundant.
Overall, Z-Warp is a fun retro shoot ’em up and it’s great to see modern consoles getting some retro love. If the likes of Z-Warp and the recently announced Wonder Boy Collection are anything to go by, retro fans still have plenty to enjoy in 2022.
Summary - FantasticSummary - Fantastic
- Bomb system is innovative and encourages explosive play.
- Thumping soundtrack throughout.
- Tight gameplay that makes you want to jump straight back in upon death.
- Occasional slowdown when the action gets too frantic.
- Limited content available with only 5 levels across 2 modes.
- Some visual effects hinder gameplay.