Some of you gamers out there might remeber Zillion, Sega’s anime-based attempt to bring a Metroid-style game to the Master System. While it didn’t quite succeed in that aspect, it certainly was different from other games on the console and apparenlty enough gamers liked it so Sega published this follow-up not many months after the original release. However those fans of the original who booted up the cartridge were shocked to find this follow-up now contained levels, lives and a score, with the exploration from the previous game nowhere to be found. In short Sega decided to jettison the unique adventure elements in favor of a straight-up arcade-style platformer for the sequel, and not a very good one at that.
Once again you take the role of J.J. of the White Knights as they continue their battle with the malevolent Norsa Empire. As mentioned above the game now follows a standard level-based structure with two types of stages. The first stage (and all the odd-numbered stages) are auto-scrolling shooter-like affairs that depict J.J. riding his transformable three-wheeled cycle, the Tri-Formation, to each Norsa base. Baiscially it’s you blasting the Norsa warriors and other enemies that come your way with your trusty Zillion laser gun while jumping over pits and avoiding other obstacles such as electrified spikes. You can take a limited number of hits per life but there are icons you can snag along the way to regenerate your health as well as power-up the Zillion gun. Grabbing the special ‘A’ icon will enable the Tri-Formation to transform into a flying suit of robot armor, the “Armorator”, and you can switch back and forth between the robot and motorcycle at almost any time. The gameplay isn’t bad but it’s difficult to avoid taking damage as the enemies shoot the instant they appear on the screen. Sadly the game uses the reverse NES-standout layout, and it’s easy to get the buttons confused, leading to some unfair deaths. Using the robot will make the shooting levels much more manageable, and it’s just about mandatory in the later areas.
Once you reach the door at the end of each shooting level you enter the other type of level, which is a basic platformer that has you infiltrating the base on foot. There’s no codes or anything to find this time around, you just run, jump and shoot more baddies that appear, which gets horribly boring in no time at all. The layouts don’t hardly vary from level to level, and you even get the same three types of enemies over and over. Some of the platform stages let you rescue your two comrades, Apple and Champ, but unlike the last game you can only briefly play as them in the vehicle levels, basically relegating them to cameos for the rest of the game. The control issues from the shooting stages are worse here as J.J. has to stop in place to shoot his gun, leaving you vunerable. Adding to the frustration is how getting hit in mid-jump will instantly cause you to plummet to the ground, and taking a shot when you’re trying to jump over a pit will usually not end well. Eventually you fight a boss at the end of the stage, after which you go through another cycle stage and the game goes on like this through four rounds of two parts each. Losing all your lives will end the game but you can hold Up and push both buttons together to continue up to three times.
It’s not just the gameplay that seems to falter, the presentation is also pretty lacking. There’s next to nothing to really connect this entry to the original Zillion (or even the anime for that matter) such as any intros or cut scenes or anything, making it feel like a Zillion game in name only. Visually the backgrounds aren’t bad, but there’s nothing really interesting about them and the platform stages are almost identical except for the color schemes which can be a little nauseating in some cases. The character sprites are certainly large enough with some okay details but the animation is pretty stiff. The background music isn’t too terrible but doesn’t compare to the cool exploration tunes of the first game, and the sound effects are just there like always. Incidentally should you complete all eight rounds, you’re rewarded with a quick text screen and then it’s back to round one.
So on its own Tri-Formation is merely an average cartridge with blah graphics and snooze-inducing gameplay, but as a sequel Zillion II is nothing short of a disappointment. This just feels too much like a rush job on Sega’s part instead of improving the gameplay and addressing the issues of the original cart, like a good sequel should do. Stick with the original game because the Zillion sequel is a zero.