Zero Strain Is Another Indie Classic Gone Physical
It seemed like only yesterday that I covered One Finger Death Punch 2, a simple indie action game that saw a limited physical release earlier this month. February seems to be a busy month for EASTASIASOFT and VGNY Soft as another drop was shortly released after. Zero Strain is an interesting title, yet much like OFDP 2, it's easy for anyone to grasp. Originally released in 2019, Zero Strain's exclusive PS4 physical release is limited to 2000 copies, with a nicely designed package.
The developer, Kaio Meris, had recently released their only other game, Quantum Protocol, which is a spin on the deckbuilding genre. Zero Strain is a spin on several different genres, with its base being a top-down "twin-stick shooter." I've seen this as a description for this title but I think naming it "twin stick" is a bit misleading. This is because rather than shooting with the right analog stick, you shoot with the face buttons. It's an easy system but it requires some explanation.
Welcome To Summoner's Rift...In Space?
The official description states that this game also has some "MOBA" elements, which would be true if you replaced "Champions" and "Heroes" with "Catalysts." In the beginning, the player only has access to one "Catalyst" and that's the Crystal Viper. It's a balanced ship with weapons that one can expect from a starter craft. As the player shoots enemies with their basic attack, they have access to weapons split in different tiers.
The Crystal Viper's first weapon is a barrage of missiles, the second is a venom that marks enemies, making them vulnerable. The third weapon causes an explosion that damages surrounding enemies. The loading text hints that combos are possible, for example, using the poison of the second weapon to deal extra damage with the Viper's third weapon. This bonus damage is enough to clear waves of enemies and it's better to collide with enemies to do as much damage as possible.
Zero Strain Is Difficult, But It's Not Impossible
Gameplay consists of playing through different levels with different goals for each one. Descent means the player goes through waves of enemies as they "descend" down levels until they reach the end. The "Boss" level plays like most bosses, identifying their pattern, avoiding damage, and keeping the assault to maintain a high score. Depending on how high a player's chain is, a grade will be issued ranging from S+ to E. This is determined by the rating percentage.
One type of mission I struggled with was "Defend," as defending a point while trying to keep alive was a challenge. Either the base I tried to defend would explode or my craft would explode from damage. For the fragile crafts and glass cannons, the player must be mindful of lasers as it's free damage that can be avoided. Trying not to die while achieving the objective can be too much to manage all at once. I was able to clear the mission after some time, but I unlocked a really cool Catalyst that almost trivialized the game following this level.
There Are Multiple 'Classes' Like Most MOBAs
The second catalyst the player unlocks, the Spellforce Wyvern, is more offensive-based than the Crystal Viper. From its passive ability alone, every time it uses its weapon its energy is restored. With its fast cooldowns and limited defenses, it proved a challenge to defend myself as well as the Resonator in the defend mission. The third craft I unlocked, the Obsidian Warcastle, changed my experience with Zero Strain immediately.
Boasting a tank-inspired appearance, its passive gives itself a shield after using a Weapon skill. Weapon 1 is like a close-range shotgun blast while Weapon 2 engulfs the ship into a flaming shield, dealing damage to anyone close. Weapon 3 is a powerful beam that halts movement but deals insane damage to anyone close to it. That, combined with its already high health pool, made the Obsidian a literal tank. I would assume other unlockable catalysts would follow similar classes, but the feeling of being untouchable had its merits. Suddenly I was getting S-ranks in missions I struggled with and progressed through the game quite a bit.
With Enough Replayability, Zero Strain Is An Inexpensive Afternoon Shooter
Perhaps to pad out content, the player will have to replay missions in order to unlock newer missions as each level requires a core to collect. Collecting enough cores unlocks the next level, but to get all possible cores, players need to clear the levels with different catalysts. At the time of my recording, I've had three catalysts which means I could potentially get three cores from each level. While it's an interesting solution to get the player to try as many catalysts as possible, certain crafts will have an easier time with missions than others.
Aside from this, Zero Strain's gameplay and flow are simple. It's easy to pick up yet difficult to master and each player will find their favorite craft to work with. It's barebones and doesn't base itself too much on its story, something that the game is self-aware with its dialogue. Overall, it's a fun experience, and owning the physical copy helps the developers as much as the publishers. Outside of this, it's inexpensive fun that everyone should experience.
Zero Strain is out on PS5, PC, and Xbox One