Zaga 33 iPad Review

We're used to assuming the role of greedy frogs, origami soldiers and temple-fleeing adventurers in mobile games, but in the spirit of the greatest tradition of the roguelike, Zaga 33 tasks players with assisting the humble @ character as it heads towards each exit in a series of randomly-generated landscapes.

It would be unkind to describe progress through the game as a question of luck, although there's an unpredictability to the behavior of the monsters that populate the screen. Tap to move your @ character and the monsters move in synchronization, albeit with an unpredictable direction. They do at least move fairly consistently in that direction once set in motion, so what's required is a teasing path around each level, picking up whatever items you can to help stave off disaster.

Saving your pick-ups for just the right moment is essential.

The exact nature of these pick-ups are unknown until they're used for the first time, but the teleport sends you to a random part of the screen (sometimes nearer the exit, just as often into a cluster of monsters). Other pick-ups allow you to send a blast of damage horizontally and vertically, handy if you've found yourself bunched in with monsters. A drone provides a shooting assistant, while the nuke does exactly what you'd imagine it to, taking a chunk of health from everything surrounding you. Freeze fast becomes the most powerful pick-up, affording you some precious free time to make progress before the beasts wake up again.

Getting hemmed in like this is just the kind of situation you want to avoid.

You have nine units of health in total, and an extra unit is awarded at the start of each level, so you can allow for at least one errant encounter per stage as you tentatively make your way towards the exit. Tap in the direction of any particular enemy across two turns and they'll be destroyed, although the monster will counter-attack at the same time. There's a perilous balance to be made between progress and survival as the monsters slowly close in.

There's nothing about Zaga 33 that should make it as compelling as it is: the graphics are rudimentary, and the random nature of the procedurally-generated levels means the odds often feel unfairly stacked against you. A drunk man with a synthesizer rolls his face slowly back and forth across the keys to create the soundtrack. And yet I can't stop playing it, and I've had to force myself to turn off my iPad in order to write this review.

As visually rudimentary as Zaga 33 is, it's as compelling a game as any other you'll play.

Michael Brough's experimental game won't be for everyone, in fact its appeal will likely be towards a very minimal subset of players: Zaga 33 is a game that you play and wonder why exactly you're playing it, yet you carry on doing so regardless. So if you have an eye for the obscure, or the just plain curious, we heartily recommend it. If on the other hand you prefer a more conventional experience, Zaga 33 may leave you more bewildered than bewitched.

Download Zaga 33

What's Hot: Unique gameplay and randomly generated levels combine to make a compulsive experience.

What's Not: Odds sometimes feel stacked against you, a divisive style of game.

4/5