Developer: Toei Animation
When the CD medium was in its infancy, we all heard endlessly about the inherent advantages the shiny discs had over traditional cartridges. Way more memory, no more connectors to clean, the ability for full-motion video, and so on. And, one of the most important advantages for the cash-strapped consumer, the low cost of the physical disc relative to the cartridges we were all used to.
Perhaps that’s the reason that Kamen Rider ZO and other niche titles like it made their way to the US despite the fact that the Sega CD was not a smash hit in this country. I mean, there had to be a spreadsheet somewhere that pointed out ZO had the potential to turn a profit, right? Because, honestly, this game is just too weird to be released in the US otherwise.
The Masked Rider: Kamen Rider ZO is yet another full-motion video game for the system. This one is based on a series of manga and “tokusatsu” films (live action film that uses a lot of special effects) from Shotaro Ishinomori, beginning in 1971. Kamen Rider ZO is based on one of three films in the series released in the 90s.
The Kamen Rider series generally features a hero with an insect motif who rides a motorcycle. There have been dozens of different series over the past four decades. ZO follows the story of a lab assistant named Masaru Aso, who was the subject of an experiment by geneticist Doctor Mochizuki where he attempted to create a Neo Organism. The result is Aso’s ability to transform into the grasshopper-like hero, ZO.
After fleeing into the mountains and falling into a coma, Masaru is awoken two years later with an unexplained urge to find and protect the doctor’s son, Hiroshi. The game chronicles Masaru’s fight with a mysterious cast of monsters who seem to be trying to abduct Hiroshi.
Kamen Rider ZO plays out like most FMV games in the Dragon’s Lair/Road Avenger style. As the video runs, various commands appear on-screen. Perform those commands in time and the game continues. Screw those commands up and it’s game over.
Actually, it’s not automatically game over. Unlike most of its predecessors, Kamen Rider ZO features a life bar system, where you can make two or three mistakes before “losing” the game. This is something that Sega did with Might Morphin’ Power Rangers as well, and it’s really effective. It’s surprising how much more user-friendly the experience is because of this simple design choice.
From what I can tell, the story and all of the footage are lifted directly from the film. The game is broken up into episodes, mostly consisting of chasing or fighting monsters. There’s a slight twist in that you can choose multiple paths at various points during the story, which is pretty unique for an FMV game in 1994. But still, the replay value is pretty much non-existent.
The pacing is also very strange. You spend tonnes of time just sitting and watching the video, only to follow it up with an “episode” that consists of a single button press. I appreciate that the producers were trying to make the story just as important as the interaction, here, but it feels really strange when you actually experience it.
One of the Masked Rider series did actually make it to the USA. The ninth series, Kamen Rider Black RX, was adapted for the US and released under the title Masked Rider, which was a spinoff of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Remember, this was when Saban was converting a lot of these tokusatsu series for release in English.
The Masked Rider series in the US actually featured a bit of footage from Kamen Rider ZO as well, so I guess there was a reason to release this game in North America after all.