The Younger Plumber reviews mediocrity at its best.
There are games that define a genre. There are titles that refine gameplay or take a genre to unexplored territories. There are also those that borrow elements from other titles for a unique and interesting blend. Zapper is none of these. It is instead a very bland and unremarkable game plagued by poor control and design.
The game’s premise is simple: Maggie the Magpie is on a crime spree and has stolen Zapper’s little brother Zipper (her motives aren’t really explained), and it’s up to the cricket with a “wicked” attitude to destroy Maggie and her eggs and save Zipper. Zapper must brave the menacing bugs, monsters, and environmental threats by making extensive use of his namesake ability, zapping his enemies with his electrified antennae.
Zapper’s controls most resemble Hasbro’s Frogger 2, also developed by Blitz Games. In Zapper’s world, 3-D environments are partitioned into grid-like squares, and character movements are similarly quantized. Because of this, all controls are digital: players can use both the left analog stick and D-Pad to hop one space in the desired direction or one of the face buttons (customizable) to jump two spaces forward from Zapper’s perspective. To jump two spaces or zap in any other direction, players must first rotate with the L and R buttons—a very unintuitive control scheme. Blitz would have been better off assigning a 1-space hop to a face button and using the analog stick to turn, tweaking the affected level elements and enemies as needed. As it is, beginners will make numerous frustrating and usually fatal mistakes until they adapt.
However, except for those reviewing the title, most won’t give themselves the time to adjust, thanks to the tedious level design and monotonous gameplay. With very few exceptions, the game’s difficulty is derived from cheap tricks and unforgiving controls. There will always be some steam shower, axe, or other method of torture to catch players off guard up ahead, and each one takes away a life. Miss a jump? Lose a life. An enemy was just barely in the space you jumped into? Lose your shield or life. Suddenly the 20 lives provided in Normal mode are barely enough, especially for those who enjoy hunting for secrets their first time through, which usually means sacrificing more of your precious lives going on side-quests or backtracking. And even if you weren’t annoyed by the level’s tricks the first time around, you’ll be annoyed at their futility soon thereafter. Adding to the mess is the level’s shape itself: the game doesn’t always provide a reference grid, so guessing whether a skewed platform 1.5 spaces away is really one or two will never cease to frustrate, and the pre-defined camera angles sometimes make things worse. There is a Super Zap charge that can provide some minor interest, and one level (which will make Rayman 2 fans groan) is decidedly different, but the game usually provides the same things again and again, slightly altered to keep it a surprise.
The audio is no better than the gameplay. Songs range from Jungle Ambience to Jazz to Techno, but almost all consist of highly repetitive and annoying drum loops, sometimes with underwhelming melodies on top. The sound effects are decent, but the gibberish voices can get annoying at times.
The game’s graphics are nothing amazing either. The uninspired character models and level architecture are roughly of Dreamcast complexity with N64 textures. Even so, the game manages to have a questionable framerate of 30 frames per second! The various environments are very cookie-cutter and lack a unique personality—nothing feels alive. The game also features a FMV intro and ending, but even these lack detail, and they present Zapper as a bumbling jerk hardly worthy of hero status.
The Story mode becomes monotonous quickly, but for those who bother, getting 100% does unlock other modes and secrets. In addition, there are two other modes of play that may provide a smidgen of entertainment. Arcade mode houses a Time Trial, which is just what it sounds like. Multiplayer features a few different customizable party games, though the Zapper controls are likely to deter fellow gamers from playing.
All in all, this is a very generic game with nothing to offer except a bit of aggravation. Zapper isn’t the worst game out on the system, but I most certainly wouldn’t recommend it. Without a pretty face for the gameplay to hide behind, Zapper’s mere existence is baffling.