Zet Zillions is a cross-cosmos deck builder with great deck-building systems

There’s not much that you need to know about Zet Zillions‘ backstory beyond the fact that you are the freshly awakened commander of a ship-planet and you’ve got to find humanity’s new home.

This isn’t Battlestar Galactica though, this is closer to a wacky FTL, run-based star-crawler meets deck-builder. Outside of the memorable setting, which I’ll get to in a moment, the real hero is the fact that you can fuse up your cards before expending them to change them for other cards. It’s a mechanic that’s starting to feel quite familiar, but the reason it fits so well here is because Zet Zillions‘ gameplay revolves around launching ‘population’ at your enemies as a twist on a stun meter, and a kind of combo-charge for other cards. That means that you’ll be mushing humanoids with things like grinders and junk to create new cards… a gory concept, but one that fits well in its twisted world and the underlying roguelite theme of survival at all costs.

Outside of those two major changes everything is comfortably familiar. Enemies are on one half of the screen, you’re on the other. Your hand is drawn from your deck, your deck is built up through event locations and successes. Everything has easy to read iconography, and there’s a really solid tooltip system that breaks down everything you need to know, and combing that with the dynamic indicators of how much damage you’ll do and what enemies are going to do next, you’ll quickly learn what means ‘The enemy hits less’ and ‘You hit the enemy harder’. Zet Zillions is a great example of user-friendly design, which is quite a surprise because its setting is Nippon Ichi (Disgaea, etc) tone levels: Everything is immediate and dramatic while also being a little bit childish — but not immature.

When I say setting I mean much more than the character art and attitude. Technology is weird, with card upgrades and combinations not really making too much sense, and being a result of stumbling on a lab or hitting a milestone while making your way across a map. The cards themselves are really goofy, bursting out of any normal defined card form and featuring a bizzare, high-energy cartoon style. There’s not much cohesion beyond ‘Junk’ and ‘Trash’ covering shield and humanoid ammo, and so it’s almost always a delight when you spot a new card for the first time — even if it doesn’t fit into your playstyle.

The thing with something big and bold, as Zet Zillions is, is that it does take a while for you to find a groove and style. I don’t think that this is a negative here at all, there’s so much card variety — and the fact that you can smoosh cards together — that a single new card could get me thinking over completely different ways to play. My most successful run had me fill my deck with (self-replicating) mini-trash that I would then use heavily to power up other cards in hand three or more times before then using those cards to attack. It meant that even though I’d often only have three power to spend on cards, I could ramp up power with 10, 15 or even 20 actions in a turn, completely flipping around a battle or sometimes even winning in a single turn.

Zet Zillions has a winning formula of great design and memorable style, it’s definitely one to watch out for.

Zet Zillions releases on PC later this year.

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