Zenji is one of the lesser known Activision releases.
This fun little puzzle game features an the player controlling
an odd little bobble headed character who must rotate tiles to
connect all the pathways to the 'source' while avoiding
various enemies before time runs out. While this concept
wasn't new, the presentation and style made Zenji stand out.
If the name wasn't already a tip off, Zenji's theme is all about the far east and Zen (Zenji means a practitioner of Zen). Not only does the music have an serene eastern quality to it, but the game's story (if you can call it that) is all about 'deceptive desires', 'constant illusions', and 'using intuition'. You start each level on a grid of tiles that can be either straight lines, 'L' shaped, or 'T' shaped. Your goal is to move from tile to tile and rotate it so that the pathway touches the 'Source'. You'll know when a tile is rotated correctly when the pathway turns green. The fun part about Zenji is that there's no one solution to each level, as long as all the tiles connect to the 'Source' you can rotate them however you want.
Of course you can't just rotate tiles at your
leisure. Not only do you have a time limit to contend
with, but there are also enemies roaming the maze. Flames
and Sparks will move around the pathways seeking you out and
getting in your way more often than not. If that's not bad
enough, once you get to a high enough level they will begin
shooting at you, so make sure you isolate them on a disconnected
tile until you're ready to deal with them. Another thing
to keep in mind is that you may only rotate the tile you're
currently on, so if you see a tile the you need to rotate you
must first figure out how to get to it. Occasionally you
will see tiles with a number counting down on them. If you
can connect the Source to this tile before the timer runs out,
you'll get bonus points. The tile will disappear once the
timer runs out so connecting to these tiles is not required to
complete the level.
That's all there really is to Zenji. The
levels start out easy enough with a simple 4 x 3 grid, but
eventually take up the whole screen (6 x 7). There's a
relaxing quality to Zenji that makes it fun to 'zone out' to,
but the constant pressure from the roaming enemies keep things
from getting dull. Zenji is a game that embodies the 'easy
to learn, hard to master' quality that the best games
have. It's just a shame that it came out so late that it
never really got a chance and the popularity it deserved.