So time for a quick history lesson. The Greeks, through the Romans, have influenced most of the western world, and as such, their mythology is one of the most studied. Like most ancient religions, they had multiple gods, and Zeus was their king. However, he wasn’t always the top dog. In fact, he was the youngest of his siblings and had to seize power from his father, who had taken up eating his children to stop them from rebelling. It’s a weird story, but what stands out is that very little is documented of the period after he was born but before he became king. Zeus Begins attempts to tell this story.
Gameplay is a challenging stripped-down beat’em up style game with the player attacking multiple foes with either punches, kicks, or lightning bolts. At the end of the stage is a boss style opponent to defeat. For variety, they have thrown in stages that vertical scrolling shooters as well. Zeus Begins had the potential to do very well using an underutilized narrative and trusted format. However, it falls short in a couple of significant ways. First is that combat is stiff and unnatural. There is no block or dodge movement, you are unable to attack and move at the same time, and you cannot bank your lightning powers, forcing you to unleash your full fury every time. Also, there are no weapons to use and no grappling, which means you are very easily swarmed and not really able to do anything about it. The next big issue is that there are no saves. As you progress through the game, you will be awarded medals that will allow you to restart the level upon dying, but once they are gone, it’s back to start. Lastly is a technical fault that may be patched as a day one release. Occasionally an opponent will disappear from the screen only to reappear after they have hit you. It’s a small but frustrating glitch.
The game’s art style is well done and has several background gems but feels off for the style of the game itself. While it is fun to see a baby Kratos and the owl Bubo, everything feels a bit too round and childish. The main character and enemy mobs look more at home in a platformer than in the violent world of beat ‘em ups. The cartoonish character reactions are meant to give the game a sense of humor, but it is not enough to properly affect the tone and feels out of place.
Zeus Begins is an attempt to recreate an early arcade game. Everything from the levels to the no saves reinforces this. The problem is that early arcade games were designed to make money more than entertain, and that doesn’t transfer well to today’s video game market. While it’s an interesting and fun narrative, its bare bones nature stops it from being enjoyable.