If you trace the modern horizontal shoot ‘em up (shmup) genre to its origins then there are two games which clearly laid the foundational blueprint: Space Invaders and Galaga (the latter was also influenced by the former).
Over time the genre saw more enemy types, screen-filling bosses, greater ship mobility, and a range of new weapons, but the core fundamental gameplay remained etched in stone and timelessly appealing. Shmups are a test of endurance and precision, they’re mechanically simple and straightforward, and yet exhibit a game design which truly tests a player. Whether it is Space Invaders or Raiden V, every quality shooter manages to test the stand of time based on their simple yet engaging gameplay alone. Given its simplicity, it’s also now among the most common genres in the indie scene, many being replications of classic titles (they really need to update patent laws for video games), with the latest one that of Zeroptian Invasion. Even Mr. Magoo could tell you it’s a Space Invaders clone.
That being said, that’s no reason to immediately write off Zeroptian Invasion, because this game is an honest homage to Space Invaders and even Galaga, and it isn’t ashamed of paying tribute to the timeless origins of the shmup genre by providing a fun experience of its own. Zeroptian Invasion by no means reinvents the wheel, in fact games like Space Invaders Extreme and Galaga: Destination Earth took their respective tried and tested foundations to new heights. Zeroptian Invasion plays it safe by sticking to the core roots of simple horizontal shooting gameplay, but certainly offers more than expected in level design and progression.
Zeroptian Invasion is a mechanically simple game, much like its source material. There is very limited mobility for the spacecraft and very limited offence too. That being said, working around these handicaps is part of the enjoyment, as you narrow it down to precise timing where there is no wasted movement and no shot fired thoughtlessly. Players who are accustomed to pressing down the fire button for an uninterrupted stream of auto-fire will need to be a bit more thoughtful with each individually timed shot in Zeroptian Invasion. Not that it hurts the experience (power-ups add a few offensive and defensive quirks), and instead it adds a layer of strategy missing from modern bullet-hell shooters. A handy tip for those getting into the game: your shot can intercept most enemy projectiles.
Speaking of patterns, Zeroptian Invasion deceptively starts out as a pretty basic Space Invaders clone, but the more you progress through the game the more detailed it becomes, both in terms of level design and in visual presentation too. Upon defeating the boss of the first area you suddenly find more colours being added and enemy patterns becoming more sophisticated. With each area you complete the enemies become smarter and sport more detail than the last, not to mention each boss battle is bigger than that before it, with each new boss coming with a more detailed pixel-art design. There is an organic sense of progression in Zeroptian Invasion, where not only the level and enemy design evolve, but the visual presentation too.
The level of difficulty is reasonable in Zeroptian Invasion; there are never really any difficulty spikes as the progression feels scaffolded and the checkpoint system is rather generous for a classic shmup – you obviously lose your score but you can start over in the current area. It won’t take long to get through the game in a sitting, but it will still test you enough to make you earn those boss victories, even with checkpoints and continues.
Zeroptian Invasion on Xbox One is rewarding to those who approach it as it should be: like walking up to an arcade cabinet in the ‘80s where every coin you insert matters. Those who have the patience to improve will be rewarded with better level and boss designs, and more colours to boot. Not to mention, the retro style looped music sounds great and rarely ever gets grating. For its asking price it’s hard to fault Zeroptian Invasion too much, but ultimately what you see is what you get: a deliberately inhibited retro gaming experience which manages to show growth with each passing enemy wave.