0 Day Attack on Earth knows what you want. Choose “single player” from the main menu, select a ship, select a level, and you’re thrown into the fray immediately. This is a game about shooting giant aliens, and if you’re playing it, you probably want to shoot giant aliens, so it’s determined to get you into that action as fast as possible. There’s no introduction, no prologue, and no attempt to justify the action with a narrative, and this minimalist approach is refreshing. The game evokes the feel of a classic monster movie with its giant aliens rampaging through famous cities. All the story that you really need is in the title itself and the names of each level, like “New York Day 1” or “Tokyo Day 2”. Aliens attack, we fight back. There’s no need for a more prolonged explanation.
0 Day Attack on Earth is a dual-stick shooter, but with its giant enemies and top-down perspective, it’s more reminiscent of other scrolling shooters like Ikaruga or Raiden, though with an inspired twist to the genre. Instead of flying forwards on a linear path, players are dropped into an open world above a major city. Red arrows point you towards big aliens that you must kill in order to beat the level. In addition to those really big critters are countless respawning lesser aliens meant to distract you, hurt you, and make life harder for you in general.
What really sells the game is the setting. Using aerial maps to showcase each city means that when you fly over Paris, Tokyo, and New York, you’re really flying over those cities. Seeing an alien next to the Eiffel Tower gives the game a sense of scale not otherwise possible with only your ship for comparison. Seeing a giant alien crash through such a realistic setting is, specifically, what evokes the feel of a monster movie. Although considering the game’s mediocre graphics, “crashing” is more like clipping, but rather than destroy a sense of immersion, the clipping actually adds to it. Classic monster movies are always cheesy, and the clipping adds just enough of that cheese factor to play up a sense of nostalgia. Even the title, with its desperate attempt at suspense, comes off as cheesy like a monster movie. This play upon nostalgia is likely accidental since the game was made by a Japanese developer (though Japan did give us Godzilla), but whether accidental or purposeful, it’s one of the game’s biggest draws.
By its very nature, the open world lends an element of randomness to the combat. As you fly towards a big alien, it’s easy to get sidetracked by a lesser enemy. It’s smaller, it must be easy to kill, so why not kill it? But when a second creature spawns next to you, and a third comes in from behind, you realize that this is more than you can handle and are forced to retreat or die. The possibility of ambush is there even when you’re fighting a big alien. This unpredictability makes each battle feel larger than it really is, as if you actually have to fight for every inch of the city that you take back.
You don’t have to face this chaos alone as you’re always flying with three other ships, piloted by a person or by A.I. Their presence adds to the scope of battle, but that’s pretty much all these companions are good for. Unfortunately the online community for 0 Day Attack on Earth is all but dead, so finding another human to play with is rare, and the A.I. will never even attempt to fight a big alien, preferring instead to shoot the smaller ones while you face those mini-bosses alone.
Like all games in this genre, enemies shoot projectiles that move in predictable patterns and much of the challenge of the game lies in dodging these projectiles. But this is where the game’s design starts to fight against itself. Since each level is an open world, you don’t actually have to dodge the attacks. You can just retreat, wait for the attack to end, then charge in again. Attack, retreat, wait, attack, retreat, wait, etc. As a result, the game is incredibly easy. Add to that the fact that it saves after each level, so that even though you only have three lives as long as you beat the level it doesn’t matter how many times you die. Even the hard difficulty offers little challenge.
However, it’s not the expectation of a challenge that makes 0 Day Attack on Earth entertaining unlike Ikaruga, but rather, it is its play upon a specific type of nostalgia and the epic scope of the invasion that is engaging. It is a flawed game, but one still full of charm.