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Game Info:

Zamarian
Developed by: Quarter Pound Studio
Published by: Quarter Pound Studio
Released: January 22, 2016
Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, iOS, Android
Genre: Shooter
Number of players: 1-4
Price: $4.99 (Steam), $1.99 (Android, iOS – "Lite" version available for free)

Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

Zamarian, from Quarter Pound Studio, hearkens back to the classic arcade machines. You play the pilot of a space fighter, and you have to shoot down oncoming aliens and asteroids. As you do so, you'll unlock gems, which are currency, and the occasional power-up. You can use the gems you collect to purchase larger, more powerful ships, or weapons to help you battle the aliens. 

This is hardly an original premise, and sadly, the one thing that does make the game a bit more innovative is awkwardly handled. You have to purchase the upgrades while battling the aliens. This can be done by using the mouse to click on the proper upgrade button, and then select which upgrade you'd like to use. Since your ship's movement is tied to the mouse controls, you are essentially a sitting duck while making your purchase in this fashion – especially since your weapons stop firing during this time as well. 

It is possible – and even encouraged – to purchase these upgrades by hitting the appropriate key on the keyboard. However, the keys are barely defined in the game itself – only in the intro screen that pops up when you first start the game, before you even get to the title screen. And even then, the keys it chooses as the default are a bit awkwardly placed. For example, to purchase a light, medium or heavy ship, you need to hit the "l," "m" or "h" key. That makes sense, but if you're right-handed and using the mouse, you need to do a bit of dodgy work with your left hand to hit the corresponding keys (when typing, those buttons would normally be ones your right hand would hit). 

Zamarian
Highlights:

Strong Points: Fun, quick games; innovative upgrade system
Weak Points: Very poor controls; bland soundtrack; no one to play with in multiplayer
Moral Warnings: Ships shoot each other and explode

This problem could be solved by using a controller. Sadly, there's no controller support for this game. Your only option is to use the mouse and keyboard. While it is possible to remap the keyboard with the initial screen, it seems like a step the developer sadly overlooked. Nothing can kill the fun of a game more than awkward controls.

This game does have a lot of potential to be fun, too. You pilot the ship around a circle, and can advance or retreat to different rings of the circle. Your weapons fire automatically, so the main thing you need to focus on is dodging enemy attacks, picking up goodies, and trying to purchase upgrades as quickly as you can. With the relentless swarms of enemies and their deadly weapons fire, you'll have to focus on dodging a lot. Fortunately, if you die, you can resume at the starting point of the level you were last at, and it remembers your progress even when you quit the game. You will lose all of your ship upgrades and money, though. Even so, you start with 3,000 gems, so it doesn't take too much to get back into the game. 

The enemies are colorful and well-animated, spinning or diving at you. The bosses are large, and can be a joy to take down. A health bar appears when one is on the screen, giving you a convenient way to see how far you've progressed against it. Knocking the weapons off a frigate is always a thrill, and the graphics and explosions are done quite well. The tendency for the background to rapidly shift is a bit distracting, though, and at times it's difficult to tell the difference between a gem or an enemy's weapons fire. The music is a generic rock soundtrack, and not terribly memorable. The sound effects are fine, with explosions when ships explode, and even a few useful noises when you need to purchase a new ship or manage to snag an upgrade. 

Zamarian
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 66%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 2/5

Morality Score - 94%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Another irritating issue I found is that every time your ship is destroyed, a screen pops up announcing that you've been added to the leaderboard. I could understand this if I had beaten my previous score, but when it occurs every single time, it gets bothersome, almost to the point where it seems like the game is taunting you. Multiplayer is an option for up to four players, but when I tried to join a multiplayer game the system found no one else playing. The game timed out and dumped me back to the menu screen. So I was unable to fully explore that option.

On the moral front, there isn't really anything to worry about here. Your ship blasts away at other ships, and when one is destroyed, it explodes in a puff of flames and smoke. Aside from the tutorial, there are very few words on the screen, and no offensive ones that I found. 

Zamarian certainly is a good reflection of the arcades of old, and I can see the inclination to pump quarters into a machine to play a game like this. Gameplay is quick, and it's fun to knock off a few minutes at a time blasting aliens. It's just too bad the upgrade system is handled as poorly as it is – otherwise, I could heartily recommend it. But bad controls are a real deal breaker, and even at $4.99, you may feel like you've been cheated.