GDC Indie Gem: Zineth
There were plenty of groundbreaking, mind-bending games up for the Best Student Game award at this year’s GDC Independent Games Festival. You’ll find coverage of some of them here on Game Front soon. But despite Atum breaking the fourth wall with a sledgehammer, or Farsh hailing all the way from Iran, the award went Zineth, which offers a more old-fashioned kind of fun.
You play a man wearing a cowboy hat and a kind of futuristic rollerblading exoskeleton, set loose in a world full of grindable rails, walls to ride, towering structures, and huge sand dunes. The game’s visual aesthetic is a purposefully blocky fantasy, a riot of clashing colors. The simple graphics enable the developers to go wild with the scale; compared to the player character, everything you see looks thousands of feet high. The few details that are included are carefully chosen: riding on the dunes kicks up a wake of golden, pixelated sand. Grinding rails results in a similar shower of sparks. Everywhere you character goes, he’s trailed by a kind of magenta contrail.
The mechanics are simple but satisfying: one button to skate and increase speed, another to jump, and a third to increase gravity, which builds speed when going downhill and allows you to fine-tune in mid-air when jumping a huge gap. If that doesn’t work, simply hit your fourth button to use the game’s generous rewind mechanic, which lessens the impact of botched leaps and keeps the action coming. After rewinding, you can still see the magenta line left by your previous attempt, which makes for easy course correction.
A simple, objective-based quest system offers some structure, but the true pleasure of game lies in zooming around the huge levels, which look like the ruins of a gigantic, colorblind alien civilization. Just get that speedometer high and see if you can keep it there. With the help of the rewind button, screwing up only means a brief break in the action.
There’s no doubt that Zineth owes a debt to Jet Set Radio, as well as to Tony Hawk and even Tribes, with its similar emphasis on speed and scale. Still, Zineth’s distinctive art, giant environments, and addictive, effortless gameplay make it more than the sum of its parts. The game can be downloaded, now, for free, from the official site. Can’t beat that deal!