Zillion (Sega Master System)

October 8, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Zillion Title ScreenZillion - Mission DebriefZillion - At your ship

Back when I first decided I wanted a Sega Master System, I didn’t actually know much about it.  I knew there were a few highly regarded games, like Alex Kidd, Phantasy Star, and Wonder Boy, but I didn’t know much else.  I really just wanted it because I love getting new hardware — especially the more obscure, “failed” systems.  Since the SMS was so heavily overshadowed by the NES during its run, it fit the bill perfectly.

Then as I began to explore the platform more, I kept reading about this game called Zillion.  Supposedly, it was the Master System’s answer to Metroid.  That seemed intriguing, so I decided I wanted it.  Then at the Midwest Gaming Classic, I found a complete copy, and the search was over.

So what’s my point here?  Well, my point is that this is a great game, but it’s clearly not at the forefront of the Master System mindset.  Everybody who know knows about the Master System knows about the basics like Alex Kidd and all the arcade ports like Outrun and Space Harrier, but it apparently takes some extra digging to get to the likes of Zillion.  Then if you actually want the game, you have to get past hundreds of unwanted copies of Hang-On/Safari Hunt, Black Belt, and After Burner to get there.  It seems to me that this game was probably overlooked, even in its heyday.  And that’s a shame, because if more people played it, then the system might have received more games like it.  And if it got more games like this, then we might not look at the Master System as such a failure today.

Anyway, that’s all the background, but why do I like Zillion?  Well, the comparisons to Metroid are fairly apt.  This is a free-roaming side-scrolling action/adventure game where you explore an underground lair, gaining powerups that give you access to new areas and more firepower to take down your enemies, all while avoiding traps and solving puzzles to open new doors.  It’s a little different than Metroid in a few regards, though.  Mainly, the overall atmosphere is different.

You’re not all alone, exploring a cavern filled with beasts and lava pits.  Instead, you’re infiltrating an enemy base that’s filled with trigger happy guards.  On top of that, you have two companions that will join you in the fight when you rescue them along the way.  So, the sense of isolation that permeates Metroid isn’t there.  Additionally, there’s a technological theme that stretches through the game, from the setting to the obstacles (laser barriers, infra-red tripwires, etc.) to the computer hacking mechanics.  There is a clear Impossible Mission influence.

So with two influences like Metroid and Impossible Mission (both very good games), Tatsunoko Productions built the game upon a strong foundation.  On top of that, it’s very polished and well made in general.  The graphics are appealing, the controls feel nice, and the music is very catchy.  On top of that, there’s a lot of depth to the game.  I really like the mechanic of finding and rescuing your friends, each of whom have different strengths and weaknesses.  Then there is even more to do when you consider all of the power-ups and secrets to find.

But the game isn’t perfect.  In fact, I deliberated on this for a while, but I’m actually going to withhold my “Retro Star Award” (I’m sure Tatsunoko and Sega will be devastated to hear that) for one main reason.  There is absolutely no way to save or continue your progress in this game.  Frankly, I found that aspect to be frustrating and pretty much unacceptable.  I can see why a password system wouldn’t have worked — any password that kept track of each door you opened and which items you had collected would have been prohibitively long.  But was a battery backup too much to ask for?

As a result of this omission, the game becomes much more daunting than it needs to be.  Mapping the game by hand (though not entirely un-fun) is an absolute necessity.  That way, you won’t have to waste your time on each playthrough, getting lost and wondering where you need to go.  Instead, you’ll be able to directly focus on the path you need to follow.  But really, the killer is that if you’re going to do a complete run-through where you save both your friends and find all the items, it’s probably going to take a couple of hours to do in one sitting, even after you have the game mapped out.  (I’m sure it’s much faster when you have played through the whole thing a few times, but figure it will take at least that long the first time you beat it.)  Your first several play-throughs will just be devoted to learning and mapping the base.  Only after you’ve spent hours on that will you be able to sit down and truly attempt to beat the game.

Final Thoughts: Overall, Zillion is one of my favorite Master System games so far (keeping in mind that I’m still just scratching the surface of the system’s library).  I love the atmosphere — it’s engrossing and charming.  I love the play mechanics of exploring the base, avoiding traps, and finding secrets and power-ups.  Heck, I’m even a fan of the music, and that’s not something I typically pay much attention to.  So yes, Zillion is definitely worth tracking down and playing.  Just make sure you approach it with the right mindset and the understanding that, because there’s no way to save your progress, you’re going to be repeating the first half of the game a lot.  Really, it’s the lack of the ability to save that keeps the game from being amazing, and instead makes it “merely” really good.

Zillion - ElevatorZillion - InsideZillion - Computer

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About Tim
My name is Tim. I live in Madison, WI. I'm a retro gamer.

Comments

One Response to “Zillion (Sega Master System)”
  1. elvis gonzalez says:

    Zillion, I remember getting this game as a gift from my parents for getting a good report card back when I was in 5th grade. At first I didn’t like the game at all but as I continued to play it I fell in love with it. I still have this game and the SMS. I wonder if xbox will ever add it to the xbox live game library so I can get it and not have to dig up the old mega and reconnect it. Another really good game was a role playing game called” Y’s” I hope they remake that game, if you haven’t played it I suggest u try finding a copy.

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