Roguelikes are as hot as they’ve ever been, so naturally it feels like we’ve got dozens coming out each week. It can be tough to sort through the pile. It’s especially tough since if you’re ever killed while doing so, the pile reassembles and you have to start sorting through it again from the beginning. Yikes. The latest roguelike we’re checking out is Zengeon, a Chinese mythology-themed adventure that originally launched back in 2019 on PC and has finally made its way to the Switch.
The seals that are holding back the demon world are starting to fall apart! As a result, the world is in mortal danger and it falls to the students of the Celestial Academy to get together and do some demonslaying. The method by which you’ll do so is to choose a student, grab a friend to choose another if you’d like to play together, and get to hacking, slashing and looting.
It’s a classic setup that doesn’t throw any curveballs. Likewise, Zengeon’s a pretty straightforward take on the roguelike genre. You can choose from several different students, each with their own specialties – you’ve got your sword-wielding guy, your shooty girl, your girl with a giant smashy umbrella and so on. Zengeon’s gameplay varies significantly between characters and each run can feel quite different as a result.
Success in a given run results in new costumes for your students, defeat means starting over from the top. Unlike many similar games, there’s not much in the way of overarching progression mechanics here. Personally I don’t mind this as it means I’m not playing with a limited kit until I’ve grinded away at the game for a while, but others might have a different take.
Your student has four different cooldown-based skills, each mapped to a face button, as well as a few charges of healing and whatever benefits they obtain from items. Your basic skills can be levelled individually based on the items you collect and purchase, so you might find yourself leaning more heavily on different abilities between each run. Fully understanding and utilizing your character’s kit is vital to success here – Zengeon is unsurprisingly difficult and there’s a bit of a cooldown on dodging, so you can’t just rely on dashing to dip in and out of combat as you might in something like Hades.
While it’s a perfectly capable roguelike, Zengeon struggles on a couple of fronts. First, from a localization standpoint, Zengeon is…iffy. It’s not impossible to figure out what stuff does, but a better translation certainly could have made the game more clear. There’s a story mode with some very nice art, but good luck wrapping your brain around it.
Second, the poor Switch would really love to provide the best Zengeon experience possible, but it’s just not up to the task. This is a beautiful game with a fantastic art style and plenty happening all at once. While that means Zengeon’s great to look at, it also means there’s a fair amount of slowdown throughout the game. That’s not great for a roguelike, since it can cause some issues when it comes to accurately aiming your attacks and dodging incoming fire.
Still, that’s a knock on the Switch more than on Zengeon itself, and if you can deal with the slowdown this is an acceptable version of the game. Meanwhile, PC players ought to take a look at Zengeon one way or the other. It’s got plenty of style and some solid, varied gameplay – not to mention multiplayer – so if you’ve mulched your way through every other roguelike out there, here’s another for the pile.