Zero Gunner 2 - Psikyo

Zero Gunner 2

Review Author: Dan Haigh
Review date: 4/30/2003
Platform: Dreamcast
Release date: 2001
Company: Psikyo


A follow-up to the arcade-only Zero Gunner, this unique Psikyo helicopter-based shooter got a Japanese Dreamcast release, but no North American or European release. Still, a surprisingly enjoyable rotation mechanism combined with classic bullet patterns and effective stage design make this well-worth importing.


The most obvious distinguishing feature of this game is the rotation mechanism. Your heli can spin fully around, enabling you to fire in any direction. In fact, you willll need to make extensive use of this ability, because enemies will approach from every direction. This is no classic vertically-scrolling or horizontally-scrolling game; the screen will scroll in arbitrary directions at different points in the game. Much of the tactics required to dispatch various enemies and bosses will hinge on clever positioning and orientation of your heli.

Much has been made of the way the rotation is implemented. You press a button to initiate rotation, which locks your orientation to a fixed point a bit in front of the helicopter. Any motion while that button is held down still leaves the heli facing that lock-point. This seems a bit unituitive at first. Many newcomers to the game wish that it used the two triggers, one for spinning left, one for spinning right. Experience reveals the cleverness of the system, however. Instead of a fixed rate of rotation, you can turn as quickly or slowly as the situation demands. After a few plays, you will be executing 90 and 180 degree snap turns at will, and you will see that you could never survive with a fixed spin rate.

ZG2 provides no screen-clearing smart bombs. Instead, each heli sports a special weapon for dealing heavy damage when the situation demands. Each life starts you out with 2 special weapon charges. Additional charges are earned by collecting 'E' icons which are released when enemies are destroyed. 'E' pickups will add to an on-screen bar. Fill the bar and earn another charge, up to a fixed maximum. If you stop shooting with capsules on-screen, 'E' pickups will be attracted towards your heli. In addition, the number of pickups released by an enemy depends in part on how long you let him survive. Most small enemies will 'sprout' a few extra 'E' capsules on their wings after they have been on screen a bit.

There is a rank system in place. The longer you survive, the tougher things get. Both standard stage enemies and the bosses fire more bullets and fire them faster. Rank control seems fairly limited since it appears to be contingent only upon survival, not score, destruction percentage or special weapon charges. The effect of rank is fairly mild compared to some games, but certainly noticeable.


ZG2 does not have a sophisticated scoring system. Score will primarily depend on destruction rate and 'E' collection. There are no stage-end bonuses nor a combo/chain system. Maximizing 'E' pickups can require some technique, however. One is faced with a trade-off between rapid destruction of enemies in order to keep their fire to a minimum and letting them linger on-screen in order to sprout additional 'E' capsules. You will also have to become proficient at 'herding' capsules using pauses in your fire to attract them towards the helicopter. These techniques and trade-offs make for an enjoyable addition to simple destruction, but they certainly do not add the depth of a more involved scoring system.

Ship choices:

There are 3 helicopter options: Apache, Comanche and Hokum. They vary in both basic attack and special weapon. The more powerful the heli's special weapon, the more 'E' capsules required to earn an additional charge. This means an obvious trade-off between frequent use of a special and maximum damage for taking out the most dangerous foes quickly.


There are 8 stages altogether. The first 4, in classic Psikyo fashion, are faced in random order. This makes for an additional challenge, as you will face different bullet patterns on the same stage, depending on where in the order you have to play it. Unfortunately, the challenge level on these initial stages is a bit disappointing. Things do not really pick up until the 4th stage. The latter half of the game more than makes up for the slow start. There are some really enjoyable stage designs, and the second half of the game takes full advantage of the 360-degree design.

Beating the game drops you into second loop, where you must face all 8 stages again at a considerably higher difficulty.


The enemies are fairly standard fare, which is very much a good thing. A mix of small drones and mid-size enemies, a mix of targetted 'sniper' shots and pattern-based spreads. The overall speed of the enemy fire stays on the low side for a modern shooter. Many stage-bosses are immediately preceeded by a mini-boss, and the stage bosses themselves often have a series of forms.

Challenge level is always hard to quantify, but ZG2 certainly does not rank among the hardest shooters to clear, at least on the first loop. The second loop, however, will take the mettle of even the most serious player. Multiple difficulties are also provided, with the arcade default (the choice of all true shooterfans) at 5 out of 7.


The game provides an interesting innovation without letting it get in the way of classic action. A scoring system and a quicker ramp-up in the early stages would be welcome additions, but those are minor complaints. The level design is top-notch, the bullet patterns are demanding and there is plenty of room for innovative solutions to difficult segments.

Numeric scores suck. In lieu of an unhelpful and arbitrary number, let me give you a frame of reference. If your tastes are similar to mine, you are likely to enjoy Zero Gunner 2 as much as I did. DoDonPachi, Gunbird 2, Strikers 1945 ii, Juno First, Sokyugurentai and Raiden 2 are all high on my list. I am not terribly fond of Gradius, R-Type, Truxton/Tatsujin or Ikaruga. Zero Gunner 2 may not be an all-time great, but it is highly enjoyable and worth a significant investment of playtime.


Spin and Fire!

A scene from a pre-boss encounter on one of the random-order starting stages.

With 4 guns mounted on a track on all sides, this makes for an early test of one's talent with the rotation. With bullets coming from every direction, it can be easy to fly directly into one while you look the other way.

Boss Fight!

This spider mech releases some drones to take care of his light work.

Of course, a well-timed blast from the Apache's special weapon, and you can take them all out at once.



It's just a flesh wound.

Here is an opportunity to take advantage of being able to orient yourself.

You can avoid the dangerous beam fire by sneaking around behind this fellow's head and point-blanking him. There is no safe spot, he moves around enough and sends enough spirally bullets to keep you on your toes, but you can make life a little easier.

High above the city

Stage 6 includes an extended fight against a large battleship (original, ain't it?).

The kid gloves are definitely off now, and reflex alone will not avail you. Survival is not assured.


Thanks Dan!! Zero Gunner 2 is a game I've definitely not played enough of yet, and after reading this I really have to go dig out the trusty old DC for a bash. I've been ignoring consoles too long while I am in a love affair with arcade stuff - I'm scared to think how much dust it has on it by now! It's also nice to see Psikyo, people who tend to regurgitate shooter engines like nobody's business, attempt to do something novel, and I like it loads. Oh, forgot, R.I.P. Psikyo - damn, no Zero Gunner 3 then - bye!

If you think you have any more important info or links about this game - just email me :) - malc


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