Genre: Shoot'Em Up
Program: RPGMaker 2003
Zero Base is a shoot'em up made in the mould of the arcade classic Gradius, as it shares both its side-scrolling gameplay and a large amount of its graphics with the legendary series. I guess there's only so much a developer can do when their game is intended for a contest that only lasted a month, so when we consider that this is a pixel-movement based side-scrolling shooter made in a system optimised for grid-based movement (RPGMaker 2003) then we come to understand why the developer didn't waste too much time coming up with custom graphics. For those of us that don't understand, RPGMaker 2003 is a notoriously bad platform for pixel-based movement (and for action-based games in general), so making a competent pixel-based game using it is no easy feat. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that people looking to make games like this shouldn't even be looking at using the ancient Enterbrain program in the first place, but that's a completely different story; this developer did and they got it to work so that's all that matters!
Zero Base borrows a lot of its graphics from other side-scrolling shooters... but that's not necessarily a bad thing!
So why exactly does the game engine work? The main reason is because the hit-detection works pretty well. Hit detection in a game like this is of paramount importance as it lets the player get as close to platforms, enemies and projectiles as they can, allowing them free movement around the playing area without worrying about the game engine screwing them over when they're already worrying about bullets doing very much the same. The hit-detection is only let down by the occasional glitch when you move too close to a platform, but since this only really happens if you move backwards into a platform it isn't as infuriating as you might think. Moving up, down and into platforms never poses the same problem, at least not in my experience, so as far as I'm concerned the developer has done a brilliant job in optimising RPGMaker 2003 for this kind of detection.
Accurate hit detection is important with so many enemies, turrets and bullets on-screen.
The gameplay the engine hosts is also competently put together, the main reason being that it manages to evoke the same sense of desperation and fear that its arcade brethren did. As kids, we'd always be worried about losing our last life (and our last bit of change) playing a game like this, especially if we knew we were getting close to the end, so in an era of gaming obsessed with checkpoints, save-files and "catering to the casual gamer", Zero Base makes for a refreshing change*. This refreshing sense of challenge, coupled with faithfully reproduced gameplay features that any shoot'em up aficionado will recognise (power ups that change the bullets you shoot, increasingly difficult enemies, bosses that seem to have more health than the world) make this a decent shoot'em up, even though the gameplay isn't going to set the world on fire in terms of originality.
Zero Base features a range of power-ups... but you won't see anything "new".
From an artistic point-of-view, the game does exactly what we'd expect. As we've seen, the graphics aren't anything we haven't seen before as anyone who's played other side-scrolling shooters (and perhaps a handful of futuristic RPGMaker games) will recognise 99% of the graphics in this game. The music has exactly the same familiar feeling as it is also sourced from the Gradius games that Zero Base seeks to emulate. I guess highlighting the similarities leads nicely into my closing words:
Zero Base is a decent reproduction of its source material, a game that old shoot'em up fans and newcomers alike should enjoy. Original it isn't, but is it fun for the couple of hours you'll get out of it? Yes! 7/10.
*I feel I should emphasise that what I'm not saying here is that its okay to make a ridiculously difficult game for the sake of making a ridiculously difficult game, as most players aren't going to find getting roflstomped over and over again fun - challenges are welcome, the computer cheating isn't. For an example of a game that takes it too far, see Spelunky. Wow, that game sucks!