Zaga 33 and permanent death


When you see a description of game that includes the phrase “permanent death” it sounds pretty serious. I have to admit that I never knew exactly what that meant. Part of me assumed it meant you could only play the game once but I knew that was ridiculous. But then as I played games that featured “permanent death” I realized that it simply meant when you die your game is over. It seemed silly to consider that a feature.

When you’re dead, you’re dead

Or maybe it was me being silly because seeing “game over” when you die is what I assume happens. That’s what should happen. It appears as though games have evolved so far that something like “game over” can be heralded as a feature and not the norm.

Almost every game I played growing up (even beyond the simple NES days) featured permanent death. When you died, your game was over and you had to start over. Yes, it sucked and it was frustrating but over time you got really good at the game, not relying on save points or passwords.

So as my gaming time becomes more and more precious, forcing me to find games I can play in moments and not days, it seems “permanent death” games are the ones I’m looking for…although I just call those arcade games. Nonetheless, I came across a post somewhere talking about the game 868-HACK for iOS. It was touted as a difficult, rougelike puzzle game…and it was $6 in the app store. Rather than plop down six bills I tried out another game, Zaga 33, from the same developer that was only a dollar…just to get my feet wet since I wasn’t familiar with “rougelike” games either.

Zaga 33

After some research I found that “rougelike” is more or less another term for “permanent death,” although usually in the context of role-playing games. Well, Zaga 33 isn’t an RPG but your game does end when you die, making your start over. The goal is deceivingly simple: walk your character through each level while avoiding death.


Zaga-33 looks basic and it is, but that’s why it’s so difficult.

The rougelike label also generally means the game is randomized and Zaga 33 is no different. Every level is random and comes with random bad guys and random power-ups. The game is turn-based and as you move your character all the bad guys move at the same time. The bad guys have patterns (which I have yet to memorize) so the more you play the more you’ll be able to spot the happy path. To help you out you’ll pick up power-ups along the way that do various things like smart bombs, healing and warps. One neat aspect is that you don’t necessarily know what power-up you’ll be collecting as there is no standard iconography for power-ups. I’ve found that doesn’t really matter (at least not yet) as you’ll be using your power-ups often to move through the game.

There’s not much to Zaga 33. Controls are simple 4-way movement, there’s no shooting and the graphics are ridiculously retro…and that might even be an overstatement. Frankly, all of that appeals to me so I didn’t have trouble diving in but I can understand how screenshots in the App Store wouldn’t really help sell the game. After all, what drew me to the game was “permanent death,” not flashy graphics or in-app purchases (which I very much appreciate). Zaga 33 is a tactical game that moves at your pace but is also a very quick game because you’ll either win in 15-minutes or less, or you’ll die in less than 10 and have to start over.

Playing every game like it’s your last life

Some games lend themselves to saved games and passwords but many don’t. Even as games started to favor save points instead of making players start over, I always played games as though I had only one life. Having a saved game was a big safety net that I wasn’t unaware of but just because it’s there doesn’t mean I want to jump into it. Whether it was Mega Man or Metal Gear, I didn’t want to have to use my save points unless absolutely necessary.

Failing over and over is part of the fun of gaming but having to repeat a single level over and over until you get it right without punishment otherwise doesn’t make you good at the game…it makes you good at that level. And at the end of day don’t you want to be able to say that you’re “good” at the game? Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Saying you completed a certain game is a wonderful achievement and is worthy of bragging and applause. But consistency is what makes people good at anything. Completing a game because you could start half-way through every time is nothing to brag about. Don’t fear “permanent death,” embrace it and be good at what you do.

6.0 Maybe a little too abstract
  • Presentation 6
  • Gameplay 5
  • Challenge 9
  • Longevity 4

About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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