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Nintendo 3DS Review: ‘Project X Zone’

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Perpetually stuck in the eighth circle of exposition (and the fifth of character introductions), Project X Zone signals fan service saturation galore, plodding out text to explain how Street Fighter’s Ryu blends with Namco’s RPG denizens. Cue the year 20XX plus a stolen “Portal Stone” and pieces tumble over one another, onto a pile text blocks that fit worse than a failed round of Tetris.

Everyone talks in X Zone, rivalries are christened, and foes are extinguished as they attempt to close multiverse gaps – or something. X Zone is a video game equivalent of asinine comic book cross-overs: Kids don’t care how Archie and the Ninja Turtles suddenly inhabit the same space, so long as they work in tandem to scorch Shredder. Parallel universes are in vogue, and Capcom/Namco/Sega’s latest is decidedly a stylish christening of their partnership.

At its wild, fatty heart, X Zone is on fire. Combative engagements push 3DS screens into processing a sea of fireball trails, gunshots, shoryukens, and morphing cat people in combination assaults delivered via minimal input. Branched from the game’s tactical RPG view, battles are digested in traditionalist 2D forms, a single button and direction unleashing tricky strikes on foes who can only spin from impact.

What initially casts itself as an uncontrolled, button-mashing paradise eventually blossoms into a technical fest of precision timing. X Zone is juggle happy, focused on keeping a swatch of ugly thingamabobs free-floating from physical assault. Inadvertently let them land, and combo strings will be busted, lessening gained XP for character pairings and (possibly) reinstating opposing force fields.

Tutorials explain raw essentials, nothing else, choosing instead to relegate richer mechanisms – such as the juggling necessity – to sub-menus. For something built on a unique surface, blending tactical prowess and fighting game technicalities, X Zone deliberately leaves people to their own discovery. Materials are easy to gloss over, and this cross-publisher affair is inviting only when the intricacies are understood.

Despite the game’s flaunting of grid movement structure, attack ranges, and 3D battlefields, intuition regarding RPG tropes is often unnecessary. Central enjoyment is instead lifted on the shoulders of character recognition or music selections; brute-force methodology can debilitate any brawny villain. Some will find concepts repulsive to a guarded group built on the backs of Orge Battle or Final Fantasy Tactics. X Zone, by comparison, is “My First Tactical Sim.”

Project X Zone is infinitely better for that decision.

A pathway is gleaned through diverse franchises to present this sparse strategy with anything but open arms toward all comers. The limited strategical scope is mended with laudable chaos that trumps even fighters within Capcom’s legacy. Intrusions of loopy unknowns such as Sega’s fish-smashing Dynamite Cop lend too breezy an atmosphere for sleepy, stifling attitudes of habitual genre entrants.

In motion, this mish-mash of illogical allies is gorgeously rendered, fitted with sprite work worthy of standalone use in other games, and often sexually suggestive anime routines that leave no doubt of X Zone’s proud Japanese origins. Blaring chiptune renditions of orchestrated greats while battling on fertile war grounds culled from any number of these often elite gaming icons is bliss – assuming you’re familiar with all this.

While protracted in its uplifting and almost implausible corporate bonding, taken in portable chunks, X Zone fights to maintain its welcome. Stage clashes limp to an hour as individual hostiles need vaporizing, exposing shallowness and repetition, especially in the open. It is that flash and zest that keep it mobile, along with the need to pay due attention to spinning adversaries as they inch toward grounding. While cautious with predetermined parties (necessitated by the glitz of snazzy combos), X Zone celebrates fighting roots first, and minimal growing complications are enough to spruce up their drying appeal.

Project X Zone is fetishistic in its colorful depictions of cartooned mayhem, so stately as to bog itself down into retro-fied simplicity. Players unwilling to cast aside 40 hours for a straight session can be relieved: X Zone is built for minimal and partial digestion. Taken in diminutive chunks, it becomes naturally filling. This is in-joke laden comfort food for the tactical klutz.

Project X Zone is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.