Back in the 1980s, when Transformers and G.I. Joe’s did battle, and He-Man only really left Castle Greyskull to give us negative body image, there was a range of toys that brought sci-fi and dinosaurs together in spectacular fashion. Zoids was a phenomenon that stretched from Japan to encompass the whole world, its wind-up mechanical creatures offering an impossibly futuristic and imagination-fuelled set-up.
Many in the UK might think that Zoids are as relevant to 2020 as Teddy Ruxpin, but in Japan they’ve continued to be hugely popular, spawning toys and new anime series like wind-up robotic bunnies. Zoids Wild is the latest of these, and Blast Unleashed is the Switch exclusive tie-in that they’ll be hoping brings the Zoid franchise back to the West.
Zoids Wild: Blast Unleashed turns the robotic action into a one-on-one arena brawler, its mechanical cast getting stuck into it in a style decidedly reminiscent of Pokémon-thumper Pokken Tournament. You take your chosen Zoid and you’re then given the tools you’d expect for roughing everyone else up.
There’s standard and strong attacks, you can dodge and you can block. Each Zoid then has three unique special moves that have a gauge preventing you from constantly spamming the hell out of them. Landing attacks or taking damage serves to fill your Blast Gauge, which once topped out allows you to enter a powered-up state of your choosing. Just like Pokken, you want to hold onto it for as long as possible before unleashing your Blast Move – a hugely powerful special that decimates your opponent’s health bar. While it’s all fairly familiar, the whole thing comes together in a surprisingly enjoyable way.
Much like Monster Hunter Stories, the Wild anime brings more friendship and cooperation into the franchise, with riders sat atop their chosen Zoid rather than being tucked away in a cockpit. They all look exactly like their animated counterparts and the Zoids themselves, with a modicum of cel-shaded style, are just as cool as you’d hope they would be. For fans of the show it’s a genuine treat to spend time with the cast, and the action has enough variation and weight to keep you engaged for a suitably long time.
Zoids Wild: Blast Unleashed also resurrects one of my favourite elements of fighting games of old, which is unlocking characters through play. I do love to see a half-full roster that you must slowly open up, though Blast Unleashed’s paltry starting five is a bit of a disappointment if you were hoping to jump right into some two-player tomfoolery.
You’ll be racing through the extensive Story mode to try and unlock all the basic fighters, though it’s nice that it doesn’t feel like a throwaway element. The story is mainly performed via talking heads and text, and it’s light, harmless fun. Once again, fans are going to get the most out of it, but newcomers won’t find it too much of a chore, with short and snappy dialogue that suits the show.
It is admittedly pretty easy to work your way through. Blast Unleashed is aimed at younger players, and it was particularly obvious when I allowed my four year old to mash the buttons with the outcome very much the same as my ever-so-slightly more considered approach. It’s accessible to a fault, and rounds will likely fall into the same pattern as you try to get through them as swiftly as possible.
That does change if you’re playing multiplayer, and battles can be pretty engaging with two players that know what they’re doing. It is possible to string some very destructive combos together, and rounds can be suspiciously short, though you’ll need to connect with your Blast Move to maximise it all. Central character Arashi will fire off his Wild Blast and say “bet you didn’t see that coming!” I can safely say, you definitely will.
The biggest disappointment is that there’s no online component, which is surely the most important thing for any versus game in 2020. I could imagine a good few Zoids fans around the world battling it out for supremacy, but as it stands once you’ve worked your way through the Story mode, taken on your sibling, and seen all of the character’s artfully produced Zoids, it’s liable to drift into the same hazy memories of your childhood as the 80’s toys.