Retrospective Review: Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman (PS1)


THE CLASSIC BAIT AND SWITCH

Rising Zan is a game where all the fun to be had in it is found in the first level. It starts off with a long introduction, making it look like a promising action game set in the Wild West, one of the few games to do so. However, the game ditches that setup very quickly. Aside from Zan’s cowboy design and a couple of levels, the game doesn’t really use the Western setting in any meaningful way. It’s all one big tease, really.

Which wouldn’t be too big of a deal, if this were about any other game. Rising Zan though, bases its whole appeal on the idea of playing a game set in the Wild West. It’s all over the boxart, and, let me stress this again, the character model and the opening scenes of this game try to completely sell the vibe. It starts off with Zan returning to his mining town after staying current with samurai techniques in Japan, where bandits have been making trouble. The player then runs through this town, casually noting that landmarks like saloons, and slashing and shooting these bandits into a bloody oblivion. This is followed up with the next level visiting another town, trying to stop a walking bomb (oddly called a detonator) from exploding. Good so far, if a bit wacky.

However, the game then throws a huge curveball by having the next level take place in a Japanese castle. From there, the game then goes on to vaguely Western settings like a moving train and a mine, before just completely giving up and going to a geisha multi-level house. There’s nothing wrong with having these levels in concept; it’s an east meets west story, after all. My issue here, though, is that the entirety of the beginning makes it sound like it’ll remain Western-themed, except Zan will have samurai-like sword skills. It doesn’t really hint that these thematic changes are going to happen.

I didn’t know cowboys dressed so flamboyantly

Moving on from that, the game plays out much like a precursor to Devil May Cry. The player can use either Zan’s gun or sword at any time, shooting enemies up into gory, bloody bits just like Dante could. Movement is much more rigid, however, and combat is not nearly as fast and frenetic. Zan has possibly one of the slowest sword swings I’ve ever seen, and the lock-on system does nothing to help him stay on target more than perhaps half of the time.

In addition, the game has a couple of additional aspects that try to deepen the combat. This includes “All Button Events” where the player literally has to mash on all of the buttons at the same time to fill up a bar within a set limit – sort of like today’s Quick Time Events. There’s also the option to activate Hustle Time, which speeds up Zan and allows him to slash away at his enemies with even more force than before, but only for a short time. While Hustle Time can be quite useful in sticky situations, the mandatory All Button Events quickly become annoying and, frankly, tiring too. They appear usually once per level, but sometimes the game likes to throw in more than that. Trust me, they’re not welcome.

Now, the audio’s pretty interesting. The game has its own rock theme called “Johnny No More”, performed by the voice actor who plays Zan. It’s pretty sweet at first, but quickly becomes annoying after the game starts to play it at the end of every level. Other than that, the soundtrack might as well not exist. The voice acting is similarly sub-par, with the sole exception of Charles Martinet (aka: the guy who voices Mario) as Zan’s Japanese sensei.  Some of the enemies in this game emit the most oddest death screams I’ve ever heard. They’re little, high pitched cries that take on some variation of “Wheeeeeeeeeeee!” like they’re at a macabre amusement park of some sort. It’s truly, truly disturbing.

I wonder what real cowboys would have thought about using a sword like that…

Obviously, Rising Zan’s graphics are not the best – it’s a game on the original Playstation after all. They’re blocky, pixelated, and suffer from the usual problems like poor draw distance and clipping. However, Rising Zan has its own additional quirks to add, such as environmental tearing and weird perspective changes due to the warping of in-game objects. There were times, actually, that Zan would be behind an object, but it would look like he was standing on top of it. Other times, some environments will appear to be big when first rendered, then slowly shrink as the player approaches it more closely.

Then, there is the nonsensical quirkiness that this game loves to dish out so much: some enemies looked like possessed strawmen. Men in their boxers are being tied to posts and held hostage for Zan to free. Zan’s double jump is him, swinging his sword around his head like a helicopter. Were this a more exciting, less monotonous game, I’d be much more willing to accept these weird little things that set Zan’s design apart from its contemporaries. However, I get the distinct feeling that all of these things were added to try and make up for the other shortcomings this game had. Sadly, it just isn’t enough.

Overall, I found Rising Zan to be a disappointment. It’s not really a Western game at all, which is disappointing when it was the selling point of the whole game. Its combat is rigid and unpolished. There are plenty of perspective problems and tearing in the environments. Its cheap quirkiness tries to make up for all of this, but, as funny as it is to see a guy in his boxers tied to a pole with enemies attacking him, it can’t carry a whole game. I won’t say I completely regretted playing Rising Zan, there is a small modicum of fun to be had, but it certainly isn’t something I’m going to revisit ever again. It’s just not worth it.

Score: 6/10

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Few pictures exist  beyond the first level which, funny enough, is where all of the Western-themed stuff shows up

The Good: The game starts off promising, with its Western setting and all. There’s still some fun in just slicing those weak strawmen in half, too. Plus, Charles Martinet and the theme song help save the audio from being a total failure. Hustle Time’s cool, too.

The Bad: The combat is a bit slower and more rigid than needed, the odd implementation of “All Button Events,” and the abandonment of the setting that made the game so promising in the first place is disappointing.

The Ugly: Predictably, the graphics don’t hold up too well. 90% of the audio is extremely unimpressive. And, the game relies on its quirkiness way too much to hide its faults.