It’s been almost two years since I first saw Proxy Blade Zero ($2.99). That was for the 2012 Dream.Build.Play competition, and it was minus the supplemental ‘Zero’ back then. On the surface level at least, this version appears to be nearly identical to that build; it was always pretty to look at. Despite the sparse environments and esoteric combat the trailer showed, I had it pegged as a game to watch.
The final release proves a lot of my initial assumptions true, and that’s both good and bad news. Proxy Blade Zero places you in the role of a sort of Space Samurai, tasked with taking down interstellar criminal boss types. You know, the kind with their own space stations and robotic armies and stuff. Levels consist of multiple battles, with you then finding a key or throwing a switch (or switches) to unlock a door and advance. Minus some brief commentary on your mission, story and exploration take a backseat.
Combat is the absolute core of the game, the Alpha and Omega. Everything else is merely window dressing, as both you and your enemies are poised for equal battle within a series of checks and balances. In simpler terms, you must play defense as much as you play offense. Much like the fighting in games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, PBZ‘s parry and dodge system is more than just a friendly suggestion; it’s life and death. And while the combat here is not as stylish or varied as it is in those other games, you can look like a badass when you pull off an impressive string of moves and combos.
Your attacks come in a few different flavors, standard and charged, using your boost not just as a means of traversal and escape, but as a way to land heavier hits and combat threats more efficiently. Doing so builds your power gauge, which in turn increases the speed and damage of your attacks. This proves to be an important counter in the larger arena fights, as some enemies come shielded and employ deadlier moves.
This reliance on balanced combat is fun, and makes sense…. but only when you’re matched up against equal odds. In group battles of say, four or more, the balance shifts too heavily to the enemy’s side. Taking on multiple foes in a system that is primarily designed for one-on-one fights naturally leads to some unfair deaths. Dodging, parrying, and attacking is harder to do when you are simultaneously avoiding thrown mines and / or laser shots from distant targets.
Melee attacks from heavier enemies can be hard to gauge, as well, throwing off your timing. Misjudge an opening, or block too late, and you can doom an entire fight. To be more fair, or perhaps being aware of this occasional imbalance, the game features very-forgiving checkpoints, meaning you won’t always have to replay multiple fights to reach your previous point. Even with that considered, be prepared to die often.
Proxy Blade Zero is exactly what I thought it was two years ago; a great-looking game with an awesome aesthetic (and soundtrack), coupled together with a layered (but flawed) combat system that pleases as much as it frustrates. Though it’s open to anyone, it’s probably best enjoyed by hardcore players that find games like Ninja Gaiden to be too easy. For the rest of us, it may be asking too much.