Thanks to QUByte for the review code
Title: QUbyte Classics: Zero Tolerance Collection by PIKO
System: Xbox One
Release Date: 07/08/2022
In this trilogy pack, you take control of a band of agents, sent out to stop an alien invasion from happening, over the course of three games! …Well, kind of. There are brief cutscenes in all the games, including bad ending scenarios depending on how and where you died, but they’re pretty typical stuff, with two of the games being noteworthy due to the odd way they chose to handle them, for reasons I’ll get into later.
The usual QuByte Classics drill applies here. Same clunky UI, this time with an extra game thrown in. Nothing is different and there’s no intro movie or remixed music this time around. Kinda a bummer since Zero Tolerance does have some historical significance so of all games in the lineup deserving of archival materials, it would be this one. Sadly, nothing of the sort, just three games, the same basic visual options that work fine, and a slow menu that gets the job done at minimum.
For the core games, they’re all first person shooters from the Genesis. And if you know the Genesis, then you’ll absolutely know that it wasn’t really a platform known for all that much on the front. Yet Zero Tolerance broke ground, as while it was clearly limited by the hardware, it was a game made for it in mind and played with it to create a rather interesting alternative for those who couldn’t get the SNES and that version of Doom. The action takes place in a windowed portion of the screen, with your UI surrounding it, sorta like a control monitor. Pretty nifty!
The music in Zero Tolerance isn’t really noteworthy, as is typical for most western made Genesis games. Thankfully there isn’t any ear-piercing fart samples like in usual GEMS driver stuff, as what is here is just basic background noise, not trying too hard and just sticking to working best. The sound effects of the weapons are pretty great, with the shotgun and laser having a satisfying oomph to them thanks to it.
As for the other two titles here, Zero Tolerance Underground is almost identical in nearly every way with the presentation, including the cutscene images, and feels more like a ROM hack, so there isn’t anything to note besides slightly better scrolling due to frameskip. When it comes to Beyond, the canceled, actual sequel, the UI gets some pretty cool upgrades and the weapons all got redesigns to better fit the “Alien Spaceship” vibe they were aiming for. Sadly, Beyond is an unfinished game, so a lot of assets in it are just as unpolished.
Compilation time, so you know the drill! All three of these games are first person shooters, with the debut game being incredibly impressive for the Genesis hardware: Both the original and Beyond Zero Tolerance use the same three button control scheme, with different commands mapped to holding differing combinations of buttons, however Zero Tolerance Underground shifts things up by mapping some of these commands to their own buttons, using the six-button layout.
Besides that, all three games focus on you or your other team members either clearing out every floor by defeating every enemy within, or by rushing through them straight to the exit, at the expense of a stage password. The same Qubyte wrapper as before is here, which means saving and loading, while slow, at least removes most need for the passwords.
Zero Tolerance (Genesis)- The original game that started it all: A FPS with a variety of weapons, and many, many floors to descend as you progress through various bases to clear the floors of enemies. The controls are pretty simple, even with a three button setup, and I found myself getting used to it in no time. The game definitely shows some fangs, with several rooms of flooded enemies, stage hazards, and tough bosses to block your way. Still, despite the frustrating moments of getting ping-pong balled by enemies in some cases, I had a shocking amount of fun with this one, enjoying the first two sets of floors immensely.
It also helps that the game is surprisingly lengthy for a retro FPS too. It’s not too crazy, but you’ll definitely be thinking you reached the end several times before it’s revealed that oh nope, there’s even more floors to travel down at another place the Aliens are messing things up. You’ll definitely need to keep track of all your teammates, who act as your lives here, to fully clear this one. Luckily, you can use save states to remove the need for passwords, only dropped when clearing an area or wiping all enemies from a floor, making this a pretty fun game.
There’s even some neat moments I honestly didn’t expect to see from a game like this, such as a robotic sniper on that shoots at you on the rooftop stage, requiring you to duck behind cover and make a run for it to avoid getting blasted, and a hillarious secret password where you can do a one on one fistfight with the final boss on the top of a building. I am not making that up. All in all, definitely a game that hasn’t aged the best, but still a curio I found fun enough to become a fan of. Sadly, there was a pretty rad two player mode which required you to link two genesis systems together, but that hasn’t been implemented in this version, nor is it even mentioned in any sort of historical descriptions. You can still enable the 2P setting with some clever button timing trickery on the options menu, but it does nothing but ask you to link to another console, which you obviously can’t do. Would have been neat to have this as a split-screen deal, but alas.
Beyond Zero Tolerance (Genesis Prototype)- This is an unlockable in the set, obtainable after you beat either of the two included games. I beat Underground as that was the shortest, so that’s how I’m able to talk about this. To be blunt, I find it a little annoying how this was portrayed as a “hidden bonus game”, since this is literally nothing more than the prototype unearthed eons ago and made available for free online with the blessing of the original team. In this one, you go to the alien’s turf and take them out from within, as payback for their invasion on Earth.
With the knowledge that Beyond is a prototype, it does offer some promising glimpses of what could have been, with a fancier UI, a bigger focus on mapping out your own path (rather than every floor giving you a map from the getgo), and even some cool weapon concepts. I say concepts, as while there are technically new weapons, they use the same sort of style as the ones from the OG game, just with a different name and menu sprite.
No sound effects outside of a few from enemies either, and the music is recycled from the OG. Cool as an unlockable bonus, but with the zero context this compilation provides, it really feels like something that might excite fans who never heard of this game before, only to be confused when they open it and literal parts of it are missing: you can’t even beat this one, as far as I can tell, leaving this as a curio, but nothing more.
Zero Tolerance Underground (Genesis)- This is honestly a little confusing. Billed as a short, finished sequel to Zero Tolerance, this seemed to be little more than a pretty weird homebrew hack that reuses an insane amount of assets from the original. Cutscene images? Check. Weapons? Check. Enemies? Check. UI? Check. The only thing truly new here is the story, and the map layouts, and that isn’t always a bad thing: Doom II was a bit like that at points. The story here is that after the original game, you chase the enemies down to the subway for one final battle.
However, where Underground really falters is that it completely feels like a step down in nearly every single way from the original: Yes, there’s an impressive frameskip option that appears to improve the performance slightly, and yes, six-button support is cool and helpful for actions like strafing or ducking. But the level design here absolutely sucks. Lots of spacious rooms just filled with enemies, which if you try to clear them out as you should be, proves to be an unbalanced and very unfun headache, with so much ping ponging between enemies and not really any of the fun the main game had.
One room at the end of the game even dropped the action to single digit frames, which was absurd. You often spawn next to the exit of a floor, since you are on a subway, making just rushing to the end incredibly easy, especially since you only have nine floors to deal with, with the ninth and final coming close to anything I’d call decent level design, oddly enough! But even then, enemy spams, duller rooms compared to the original game, and a whole lot of reuse, make this feel less like anything akin to a sequel, and more akin to a map pack with minor QOL, and not a good one. Yet again, this appears to have 2P support in the ROM, but also again, there’s no way to access it.
Turns out, there’s a good reason for all of this, and why I was absolutely confused at first: this is not a romhack, nor is it a fangame, or a full fledged sequel. What Underground actually is, is little more than an extra “World” of levels meant for a canceled Sega CD version. That explains why everything feels weird, and why so much seems similar to the original game, since it basically is the original game’s lost final world, just restored into a separate product. Pretty cool with that context! But sadly, the collection makes no actual mention on this, and I nearly missed that context until right before this review hit the editing phase, solely due to the lack of information on this game. At the end of the day, I still find the original game vastly superior.
In conclusion, while Zero Tolerance Collection is indeed arguably definitive (it seems to include all Genesis titles that were made, unofficial or no) in terms of the selection of titles, it sadly falters on almost every other front.
The original game is a pretty enjoyable Genesis gem, that while not perfect, is still a decent experience worth going through once if you’re an FPS fan, but the lack of the ambitious two-player mode with no attempts or explanations made on what it even is to newcomers, is pretty upsetting, as are the complete lack of any archival material to better explain just how ambitious this game was back in the Accolade days. It just feels like a game thrown in here with no tweaks, and by itself, I could at least say if you enjoyed that classic entry, this would be worth a look.
As for the other two entries? Honestly, as crazy as this may sound, I’d much prefer if they weren’t here at all, at least not without much-needed context. Underground is hardly a sequel at all and is completely worse in most ways to the original, and also lacks the two-player mode. Most players who jump into this collection blind may think that Underground is a full fledged game, and come off disappointed by how soft and haphazard it feels knowing no history on the creation. But with the context of it being a bonus world for Sega CD, finally available for the first time ever? I actually think that’s cool, even if I now wish the QOL featured in Underground made it to the main game, or even combined the two for a definitive edition.
But Beyond? Unlocking it by clearing one of the games is neat and all, and it is a cool curio to have on a collection for preservation sake, but with zero context it absolutely feels like just a random file from the internet thrown in a fancy menu as a bonus feature, likely to confuse anyone who jumps into it expecting a full game, only to realize that Beyond is very much incomplete and a glimpse at what could have been. Again, if archival material or an in-game description on why it was cancelled/what it was planned to be was here, that would make this a cool unlock! But as it stands, it really is a bonus feature that barely feels like one.
Ultimately, for a “Collection”, you do get everything… But with none of the historical context these retro games requires, and as arguably the biggest and most remembered of the Qubyte line yet, it’s a shame almost no extra work was done in this compilation besides compiling these three together and adding achievements. If you liked the original game and just want to play that, you’ll have a fun time, but otherwise, if you were hoping for the other two to be anything substantial or for any bonus content to be here, I’m sorry to say, that ain’t the case.
I give QUbyte Classics: Zero Tolerance Collection by PIKO a 5 out of 10.