If you’re like me, then all you want to do after a taxing day at work, screaming your lungs out at grad students, is to slip into something comfortable and play some relaxing games. Soothing, yet one that keeps you on your toes. The right kind of game can make all of your stress go away and make you forget that you have to do the same exhausting stuff the next day all over again. This is where Midnight Sea Studios’ ZIQ comes in. Easy to pick up and pronounce? Well, let’s take a look.
ZIQ is an arcade runner that features polarity-switching gameplay, developed by Midnight Sea Studios and published by 3D Realms. It was released for Microsoft Windows through Steam on 5 August 2018. A Switch version will be out later this year.
Story & Narrative
You don’t play an arcade runner for its story. That’s a given. And ZIQ doesn’t try to change this tradition. You play as The prototype Z series IQ nanite (ZIQ), created by an ancient malevolent A.I. And what good is an A.I if it doesn’t go AWOL and try to eradicate all organic life forms on Earth? Your bidpeal frog looking hero is put into countless experiments to improve the neural network of the A.I’s army. And that’s basically it. Aside from your creator frequently taunting and making comments on your progress, the story doesn’t crop its head elsewhere, because it doesn’t need to.
Gameplay & Mechanics
ZIQ will be instantly familiar to the casual crowd who are used to endless runners in mobile devices. It’s meant to be picked up and played at will and does a decent job at it. You automatically run down a seemingly never-ending corridor with three lanes filled with obstacles and pick-ups. Your aim is to go as further as you can (level 7) while collecting items called ‘charge cores’ that increases your score multiplier. Sounds too easy? The catch is that you have to match the polarity (colour) of the hero to match that of the charge cores and the various obstacles. You also have to switch the two polarities up frequently to collect charge cores in the pattern displayed at top of the screen. This makes the game extremely challenging and you’ll need nimble fingers and spot-on hand to eye co-ordination to make it to the final level.
Thankfully, the challenge hardly gets to the “smash your controller violently” area thaks to fluid and snappy controls. It is highly recommended to play with a controller, even though you can make-do with a keyboard and mouse combo. The controls are very easy to pick up and after a few hours of play, you’ll subconsciously waltz through many of the game’s hazards while keeping a sharp eye on the pattern of charge cores.
What the game lacks however is variety; enough variety to keep your attention for long periods of time. The procedurally generated maps doens’t have much going for in terms of visual or layout variety. It’d have been pretty cool to have spiralling pathways and inclines with a few more types of hazards along the way. The lack of game modes is also a cause for concern. The only game mode available now has you try to finish level 7 with the highest score and earn a place in the global leaderboards. Some additional challenge modes, such as time trial and customizable runs with mutators would have been a great addition. I also wouldn’t mind a level editor to go along with it.
Visuals, Performace & Sound
ZIQ isn’t much to look at and rather keeps itself wrapped up with a simple set of tiles and assets. The saving grace here is the neon-filled art style that keeps environments from looking bland (Neon wins…always). I did experience minor headaches while playing for prolonged periods of time, but that might just be me and my affinity to play in pitch darkness.
The game ran well above 60 fps at 1080p on a GTX 750 coupled with i5 7500 and 8 gigabytes of ram in low settings. Note however that while Vsync was turned on, the game stayed locked up at an fps of 37. However, one annoying thing is that the game keeps turning on Vsync back every time I go to the main menu and come back.
When it comes to sound, everything is pretty standard arcade runner stuff. You got the calm, soothing beats, the frantic techno loops and upbeat rhythmic music that fits the tone and pace of the game. I do wish there was some sort of dynamic music system, but that’s just nitpicking. Your creator frequently taunts and mocks you in an exaggerated voice and that sometimes comes across as distracting and annoying. But I have to admit, some of his dialogues are pretty funny.
ZIQ is a simple, yet challenging arcade runner that works wonders to alleviate stress. It’s a game I’d be happy to play when I’m baked out of…..erm…I mean exhausted after a tiresome day at work. The game could use a bit more variety in terms of visuals, levels and game modes. But it’s not a game that you play for prolonged periods of time and some of the faults can be overlooked due to that reason. It’s a few updates away from being a really good game. For ₹349, ZIQ delivers fun and challenging gameplay in short bursts of time.