Sunday, 08 January 2017 00:00

Zenza Review

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“Who is to say what is a bad game, [or] what is a good game,” questions Youtuber “Peppage,” while playing Zenza. If that sort of question comes up while you’re playing a game, it’s telling. And sure enough, Peppage continues, “To me, I think Zenza is… not that great. I am… not really enjoying this right now.” Peppage tempers his disdain, however, by hypothesizing, “However, somebody probably enjoys this game.” He then immediately backpedals and qualifies that he means “somebody” in the literal sense – “One person,” he asserts half-heartedly, “might enjoy this game.”

So, what is this “Zenza?”

The developer of Zenza, Intropy Games, describes the game as a “calming puzzle game on a journey through the seasons.” ‘Calm’ seems to be Intropy’s thing; Prism Pets for the Wii U was developed by Mouse Potato Games, but it was published by Intropy. And what is Prism Pets? A “relaxing color puzzle game.” You might be starting to sense a pattern here, I am too. And you see, I’m smarter than that; I can see through the ruse. ‘It’s just calming, guys. It’s a no-pressure puzzler, so don’t take it so seriously.’ There exists a qualitative difference – one I am not certain Intropy appreciates – between calming for the player and calming for the developer. Spoiler: you never want the latter. Relaxing games don’t need to be watered-down games. You don’t get to just write off a bad game by saying it’s ‘casual.’ That’s not how it works. Elon Musk touches upon this by warning of the dangers of complacency and half-heartedness: “People sometimes think technology just automatically gets better every year, but it actually doesn’t. It only gets better if smart people work like crazy to make it better. That’s how [anything] actually gets better.”

I once saw a poster for which I would like to get a print.

It had a drawing of a suited man holding a sledgehammer, and over the man read the text, “What does it mean to be an American? Hard work, and lots of it.” Good games require lots of work. And I don’t necessarily mean subjectively good – I mean objectively good, too, as in, working. Because Zenza is full of bugs, which does not, as you might expect, make it any more relaxing. The praises and commendations showered upon Zenza are Potemkin awards. Intropy’s Facebook page boasts that it was a contestant on the 2015 Tokyo Game show, which is about as literal a ‘participation trophy’ as one could get. The Steam page claims Zenza received an Indie Prize Showcase award, but, again, it seems that Zenza was merely an entrant – the winner’s list makes no mention of the game. This Indie Prize ‘award’ makes another appearance in the Zenza trailer on YouTube, and – wouldn’t you know it – the comments are disabled. Naturally.

One should be wary of those who seek to limit or silence the speech of others.

It is a pukka example of cosmic irony that Intropy’s LinkedIn page asserts that the company is committed to “delivering a quality entertainment experience.” “Usagi-chan Bunny Treats” for the iOS and Android, Intropy’s largest game, with “nearly a quarter million downloads to date,” bears the telltale sign of an Intropy game. ‘What, that it’s “relaxing”?’ you might ponder. Perhaps. I was getting more at the poor craftsmanship, as evidenced by players complaining about its bugs. “Chill out water to make it’s solid state.” Yes, “it’s,” indeed. If you want a great game on mixing and combining things, I highly recommend the universally praised Alchemy (for Android).
At its core, Zenza lacks definition.

It is an uninspired, cliché take on Japanese culture. Intropy tries to invoke “Kigo Haiku” in describing the game.

It’s a shame that the OPNoobs reviewer that reviewed your game speaks Japanese, Intropy.

“Kigo Haiku” isn’t a thing. “Kigo” is, and so is “Haiku;” I imagine most people are very familiar with the latter, at least that it is some form of Asian poetry, but the proper application of 季語 (kigo) requires a refined touch. It seems that Intropy might believe that Japan is just one big sushi-anime country, and anything Japanese is good: Intropy retweeted a tweet from the user にーつぁ(think: Nietzsche) which reads, “謎‘の和風パズル、よくわかんねえな” or translated, “[Zenza is a] Weird ‘Japan-style’ puzzler, not really sure I get it.”

Japan’s denouncing of the Japaneseness of the game doesn’t mean it’s Western, though.

Westerners don’t seem to get it either.

Philippa War of Rock Paper Shotgun calls the game “slightly confused,” and laments that “[Zenza] seems to be broken at the moment which is a shame.” Steam user Ander sums up Intropy’s most recent release quite succinctly, “This game feels at odds with itself.” If you feel inclined to play the game, which I do not recommend, take a moment to read Ander’s review. In a nutshell, he points out the ludicrous proposition that a game which literally scores you on factors beyond your control (i.e., whether or not the ‘right piece’ is randomly generated) could be construed as ‘relaxing.’ In fact, his point was so poignant that I wanted to reach out to Intropy directly to get their take on it. After an initial response from Lisa Walkosz-Migliacio (Intropy’s lead developer) that she was “happy to answer [any questions] over email!” [declining a phone interview] I sent the following message, reproduced here in its entirety:


Great. I'd love to give you a chance to speak to these points below:

1) Zenza is marketed as a "calming puzzle game" and Prism Pets, which IG published, is marketed as a "relaxing color puzzle game" - is there any reason why IG focuses on making "relaxing" or "calming" games?

2) Steam user Ander makes what I feel to be some valid points in his review of the game (here), specifically that the game is "at odds with itself," specifically because it seems that introducing scoring into the mix detracts from the 'calm' effect you sought. Do you think this is a false dichotomy?

3) The game seems to have some bugs - was IG aware of these bugs before the release, and intends to patch them up at a later point in the future?

Please let me know if there are any points about the game you'd like to bring up. Thanks again for taking the time.

And that was the end of the communication, with no response over one month later.

Note that the absence of a reply is not unlike YouTube comments being disabled. Intropy seems to have no issue speaking at great length about “the relationship between gender and digital games,” but once a reasoned, even-keel, direct group of questions comes up, suddenly it’s radio silence.

The only positive review of Zenza is extremely suspect.

"EranKrief" is either soliciting his service as a positive reviewer or has an abundance of free time and spare cash and an inversely correlated dearth of intellect. He comes across as a petty, left-handed (Not recommending games if you cannot re-map WASD) troglodyte. Even a cursory examination of his reviews should raise some flags - his 'Not Recommended' review for Eets Muchies is particularly interesting, included here in its entirety: "??? not full screen and when i press the objects it's not always working you fix this i change my rating." Nearly no one ever finds his hundreds of reviews to be helpful. In fact, one person marked his "Recommended" review for Zenza (consisting in its entirety of five star-icons, like so many of his reviews) as funny.


The Verdict

I’d like to think that most readers find OPNoobs reviews to be helpful. We are gamers, not activists, and we report on the experience as such. Before I began writing for OPNoobs, I emailed Fred Brizzi, the original OPNoob, the following: “The work I read on your site is no-nonsense game reviews with the welcome infusion of personality, and I think the gaming community benefits from such an approach.” It’s as true today as it was when I wrote it, if not more so. We really just care about games here, and the gamers that play them. So, with this benevolent concern in mind, my advice to the readers regarding Zenza is a hard pass.

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Rey Urias

Rey Urias is a professional writer, having spent his career penning textbooks on craniofacial orthodontics, promotional flyers for holiday specials, proposals for multi-million dollar military contracts, and documentation for enterprise IT systems. He has a background in Information Technology, but his favorite technology has always been video games. Growing up, he relished the serenity of Harvest Moon, the strategy of Command & Conquer, the epic experiences of Zelda and BioShock, and the challenges of Call of Duty, Ninja Gaiden, and Soul Calibur. But these days, Rey spends his free time with his amazing wife and adorable daughter - and when he can sneak it in, he plays Smash 64 competitively as poobearninja, the king of the up-smash.


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