REVIEW – The legendary masked champion of justice, Zorro, is back in Zorro The Chronicles, a combat and exploration action game for younger audiences developed by BKOM Studios and based on the animated series of the same name.
The character of Zorro, who was first created in 1919 by a writer named Johnston McCulley, who wrote his serialised adventure novels for All-Story Weekly magazine, has a history going back over a century. The basic story of Zorro is that of the masked champion of justice in California in the early 1800s, Don Diego de la Vega, ostensibly a spoiled gentleman who is cowardly and soft on the surface, but who, hiding behind the mask of the mysterious Zorro, successfully fights his one-man battle against the iron-fisted governor of Alta California and Spanish rule. Interestingly, the character of Zorro was modelled on a Hungarian-born writer, Emma Orczy’s 1907 Red Pimpernel, but Zorro himself was also the inspiration for later Batman comics.
The hugely successful series of novels has been adapted into many film adaptations, first starring Douglas Fairbanks in 1920 and later with well-known world stars such as Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, Alain Delon and Antonio Banderas donning the mask of Zorro. The second Banderas film, The Legend of Zorro (2005), was the last to hit the big screen. Still, since then, a 2009 TV series set in the Philippines and a 2014 French animated series Zorro: The Chronicles, based on the adventures of the masked knight, have been made – the latter is the basis for this video game for youngsters.
As far as Zorro games are concerned, a personal memory for me is that Zorro for the Commodore 64 from 1985 was the very first video game I ever played, and despite its simple graphics, it totally nailed me to the small screen. But since then, sadly, no truly memorable – or at least better than mediocre – Zorro games have been made, and sadly, Zorro: The Chronicles, which has just been released, will not change the world, even though the franchise has plenty of potential.
“You know? For kids!”
Of course, I didn’t imagine from the first images of the game that it was going to be an Assassin’s Creed humiliation title: it was obvious that we were going to get a game for young people from the developers at BKOM Studios.
Nevertheless, the first level of Zorro The Chronicles made me smile. The animation is cartoonish and charming, and the combat, while extremely simplistic (yes, even by the standards of early Assassin’s Creed titles), is satisfying overall. You can’t kill anyone, say (because it’s made for guys), so enemies are not stabbed but are taken down with family-friendly and fun knockout finishes such as a simple muff, pulling down an enemy’s trousers, throwing them into a fountain, or stamping a Z into their uniform before they collapse in a messy heap. I can’t say I was too thrilled about it (even in the movies, Zorro stabbed his enemies), but I got used to it after a while.
Otherwise, the game offers some challenge on harder levels, and the gameplay is quite varied beyond mere pacifist mowing. For example, the player can destroy wanted posters on each map, but finding them requires some exploration. There are also “bonus areas” in each level with optional objectives, such as hitting three guards in a cactus or sneaking up on a stealthy knockout. Overall, we have an extremely simplistic, family-friendly, bloodless classic Assassin’s Creed clone here.
What’s the story?
Although the developers have based it on the 2014 animated film, they haven’t really bothered with the story or putting events into context. Almost all the missions are covered in a short description that you can skim through before embarking on any mission. I think this is a confusing decision: children who know the Zorro The Chronicles series are unlikely to read fluently, and for those who don’t know the series, this is not enough context for the game’s events.
As for the characters’ motivations: there is the main villain, and the teenage Zorro is the good guy, but we don’t learn more about them, and Diego has a twin sister, a female Zorro: Ines, who you can also control. The game does not reveal who she is and what her role is in the series (apart from being a female Zorro).
We also don’t learn anything about the other characters in the story (the ones we save, for example), so I had no reason to care what happens during the game. I feel as if I’m making an unspoken assumption that the Zorro franchise is enough backstory for anyone to play with this Zorro title, and if you want to know more, here you go: watch the cartoon series, and that’s about it.
Repetitive on every level
Unfortunately, it was not only the lack of story that was disappointing in the long run. I liked the first few tracks, but what seemed charming at first quickly became repetitive. Although there are progression systems in the game, they do little to change the repertoire of your hero’s movement (icing on the cake is that some of the extra skills you learn simply don’t work), and they can’t save the gameplay from flattening out pretty quickly. I spent most of my time in the game fighting group after group of Mexican soldiers, the enemy, with little variation or interest in their elaboration. It’s OK to the point that combat and exploration are much simpler than an Assassin’s Creed. Still, beyond the stealth, combat, taking down wanted posters and completing missions, there’s so little to actually do that you can get bored of the events very quickly.
The creators have even tried to give you bonus tasks: take down enemies from a height, kick them with a horse, etc., but these are rather frustrating, as there are too few enemies, the controls are too clumsy, and if you fail, the game will rub it in your face for a long time in a separate subtitle.
Zorro’s greatest enemy? The camera tracking…
To make matters worse for the aforementioned somewhat unfortunate controls, our hero’s camera tracking is at times sub-par, and we struggle to follow him more than we struggle to fight the enemy.
I did run into other bugs and stalling, though, which was also frustrating because there were times when the game would autosave and reload from quite far away.
As for the technical presentation, it’s really not worth going into: although I tested the PS5 version, the graphics look like a PS3 title from two generations ago, but at a higher resolution. The only exceptions to this are a couple of really top-notch animations, which you can see when Zorra does some extra movement. On the positive side, the locations are pretty exotic and relatively spectacular despite the simplistic graphics.
All in all, Zorro The Chronicles is only recommended for the younger generation – but only for those who follow the cartoon series on commercial TV. Unfortunately, the severely limited story, simplistic controls and very mediocre graphics mean that the game is not up there with more modern action-adventure games. So we will have to wait for a sign from Zorro…
Thanks to Magnew Ltd. for the PS5 code!
+ Charming, fun adventures for young people
+ Fun at first and a couple of tracks fun
+ Two characters
– There’s really no story
– Flats very quickly
– Medium graphics
Developer: BKOM Studios
Style: Action adventure
Published: June 16, 2022