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Virtually Overlooked: Zillion


Welcome to our weekly feature, Virtually Overlooked, wherein we talk about games that aren't on the Virtual Console yet, but should be. Call it a retro-speculative.

Metroid Week leaves us in kind of a tight spot in terms of Virtually Overlooked content. We at the Virtually Overlooked Research Center want to be team players, but it's hard to imagine a less obscure franchise than Metroid. Samus Aran is often mentioned in the same breath as Mario and Link, and, unlike those two extremely well-known characters, she has no terrible CD-I game to her credit.

We suppose we could talk about
Metroid II and Metroid Fusion, the two main-series Metroid games not on the VC, but that seems kind of obvious. Instead, here's a Sega Master System game that is one of the earliest post-Metroid Metroidvania games.

Zillion is, like Metroid, a side-scrolling, free-roaming adventure game set in a sci-fi environment. Unlike Metroid, it was a licensed property, made to tie in with an anime series co-produced by Sega. As a licensed game (and as a Sega Master System game, but that's mean) it's naturally not as good as Metroid, but it's still a great platform game.

Also as a result of its 80's-anime provenance, Zillion has a bright, squeaky-clean, metallic aesthetic that contrasts sharply with the organic, alien Metroid environments. This appearance is only augmented by the Master System palette, which is hard to describe-- you just know a Master System game when you see one. It's something in the weird teal blue. The anime character portraits, brightly colored hair, upbeat music, and humanoid enemies give a much bouncier tone than Metroid's bleak isolation. Where Samus is exploring a desolate planet of ruins and mysterious wildlife, your character in Zillion is infiltrating a populated, manmade installation. And unlike Metroid, you aren't alone.

Zillion casts you as a kid named J.J. who goes into an underground base to rescue his friends Apple and Champ, who were captured, perhaps, for the crime of having names that sound like they should belong to cereal mascots. You have a gun that looks exactly like the Master System Light Phaser, though used more for shooting robots and soldiers and less for Safari Hunting. We personally love the look of the SMS gun, by the way, and thank the Zillion designers for that little connection. Once you've rescued Apple and Champ, they become playable characters, adhering to the slow-and-powerful/fast-and-weak alternate character dynamic. Samus, of course, never had any help.

Opening doors in Zillion is never as simple as shooting at them and waiting for the bwoooop: you must find numerical combinations, and either memorize or write them down. Between Zillion, Phantasy Star, and Miracle Warriors, having to write down information in order to navigate was a pretty common Master System experience.

[Images via Hardcore Gaming 101, SMS Power]

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