You are humanity’s last stand. Don’t suck.
One of my absolutely favorite games on the NES was BattleToads. I loved the graphics, the music, the ability to beat the crap out of your friend while he tried to innocently progress in the game… but most importantly, I appreciated the challenge. BattleToads remains one of the most beloved, and most challenging, games of the NES era. ZiGGURAT feels like an 8-bit love letter to the days when games were pure, honest, and frustratingly difficult- in a good way.
When you launch ZiGGURAT you are immediately met with gorgeous 8-bit visuals and a fantastic piece of ominous bit-crunch menu music. The first few screens quickly teach you how to play the game, and then you’re thrust into the final stand for humanity’s survival. You play as a soldieresque character who stands atop a mountain, armed only with a Samus-like cannon that charges the longer you hold your finger on the screen. Wave after wave of robot enemies will assault your position, and it’s up to blast them back to the planet whence they came.
This is literally all there is to ZiGGURAT. There are no powerups, no unlockable costumes, and no in-app purchases with new levels. I love it. You aim your gun by either sliding your finger left and right on the bottom of the screen, or using an odd “slingshot” method, not unlike angry birds. I found the slingshot method to be pretty useless, but after a few tries with sliding my fingers, I got used to the default aiming controls. To be fair, it was kind of off-putting at first, and I found myself wishing that I could simply tap where I wanted my soldier to shoot. I can now understand that Action Button probably wanted to keep the main portion of the screen free of my fingers so I could fully enjoy the wonderful visuals.
If there’s one thing that can be said about ZiGGURAT aside from the catchy music, crisp visuals, and slick controls, it’s the fact this game is FREAKING HARD. Unlike many “last stand” types of games that pit you against hordes of oncoming enemies, ZiGGURAT ramps up the difficulty within less than a minute of gameplay. Basic robots will slowly jump towards your mountain top position, but then yellow, red, and other colored bots come along that force you to change your strategy. There are even giant robots the seem to take a zillion hits before they explode. If that weren’t enough, some bots randomly shoot slow-moving purple energy orbs at you. Defeating this destructive force comes down to timing your weapon charge and finding the best target to unleash it on. Robots will explode in chain reactions if they are near the first robot you destroy, meaning that selecting the right target is vital. It’s also important to note that there is a “sweet spot” when charging your weapon that allows you to unleash the full force of your energy gun, instantly destroying a robot without the need for a head shot.
ZiGGURAT is fully equipped with OpenFeint and Game Center leaderboards so you can see how pathetic you compare to the uber-gamers of the world. More interestingly, there is an extremely in-depth stat page at your dispoal that tracks pretty much any metric you can think of. How many times you died to the blasted red bots, how long you lasted in your best round (99 seconds!? Wow, I suck.), and how many “????????????” you killed are just some of the tracked statistics. I don’t know what that last one means, but I sure want to find out!
Some may find ZiGGURAT lacking in content. Yes, there is only one game mode, and there’s nothing to unlock or achieve, but this is one of those games that drives you to play it without any quirky gimmics. It’s insanely easy to pick up and play when you have literally a minute or two to spare, and the mysterious stats page really makes me wonder what I will discover if I can stay in the game for just a few more seconds than last time. ZiGGURAT is unapologetic about what it is: a blatant throwback to the kinds of games that older gamers like me grew up on and loved. There’s not much more to say, other than ZiGGURAT is a great game that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who has an appreciation of our video game roots, and who doesn’t mind the occasional blisters on their thumbs.