Best Games You’ve Never Played – Evil Zone
Take some character archtypes from every anime you’ve ever seen, throw them together in the story of an interdimensional battle to stop an evil sorceress, and give us a weird, unusual control scheme while you’re at it. Evil Zone had MADE IN JAPAN written all over it, but whether you were an anime fan or not, this was an original, unique take at the fighting game genre that was well worth playing.
Unique at the time, especially for a fighting game, there was a full story mode for each character, complete with voice acting, made in the style of an episodic TV show. While it was a little annoying to see a preview of the “current episode” (or fight), then the actual match, and then a “next time/coming next” mini-trailer for each and every round, the effort placed into the narrative, however typical the anime-like story, was an appreciated gesture for fans to enjoy if they really dig it.
Fights were cinematic, with pretty much every available move to a character having a special set of camera angles and a sound bite, making battles feel fresh no matter how many times you play it. Everything made you feel like you were controlling an epic battle on a Toonami cartoon more than just an ordinary game.
Stages weren’t very inspired, unfortunately, but every character was detailed with a moveset corresponding to the type of anime character they represented. The voice-acting and personalties attached were perfect, and players no doubt could find at least one character they loved with a passion.
There was your Power Ranger pastiche in Danzaiver, a special officer trying to save his partner from the Evil Zone; there was Lie, a punk rock looking guy who stole an evil sword (which just may be the devil incarnate) that’s slowly taking over Lie’s body as the story goes on; there was Keiya, a man in a suit who practiced Onmyōdō and did all of his moves with one hand in his pocket (until he did his Super); Kakurine, a 10,000 year old being who looks like a ten year old; and more. They were different, interesting, and all around fun to play with, even if their controls were largely the same.
And speaking of controls…
This is where Evil Zone found a huge divide, and most likely was the reason why an “Evil Zone 2” was never created. You could do a ton of things, from throw moves, to “capture” moves (at multiple ranges), to charge attacks and dash attacks and super attacks and more…
But you could only do it with two buttons.
Using just the D-Pad and the Square and Triangle buttons (or any other two buttons you wanted), this was a control scheme that made hardcore games yell “Blasphemy”! All attack-related input was made througha combination of Triangle and the D-Pad, all blocking and dodging movements a combination of Square and the D-Pad, and all regular movement (backwards, forwards, left and right sidestep) with the D-Pad alone.
Before you walk away and judge, let me say that Evil Zone still offered a complete and robust moveset for each character, and about as complex in execution as any other fighter when you mastered it. Timing was crucial in this game: one mistake against strong A.I. could leave an opening for an enemy to attack; and choosing when to use captures, throws, and ranged attacks came down to a careful eye and fast fingers.
Later matches could be frustrating, especially when facing Ihadurca, the archvillainess of the game. Yet, like Dark Souls, gamers knew it wasn’t a cheating A.I. to blame, but their own mistakes that made them lose. Evil Zone challenged gamers to be fast, fierce, and analytical, or die.
There was also a powering up component in this game: to stock a Super move, you had to take a moment to stop (potentially leaving yourself open) and build up your meter, which was also your life bar. This was important because the lower your life (and in turn the closer to defeat you were) the faster it was to build and stock a Super, since you didn’t have to charge as long to fill your life bar. Where–at full life–it may take 5 seconds to stock a Super, a fifth of your life bar allowed you to charge and stock the maximum of three Supers available to every character in half the time. This gave you three chances to turn the tables on your enemy and take off massive damage, if you caught them.
Evil Zone was an oddity for its time, and I fear the vast difference in play style ostracized it from a market that was knee deep in Capcom, Midway, SNK, and Namco games. But for me, this was a bold and ultimately successful experiment in pushing a genre in a different direction, and to this day I still pull Evil Zone out for an occasional playthrough.
And damn her to death, I still can’t beat Ihadurca or the first try.