I’ve been a big fan of scrolling shooters ever since getting my hands on Twinbee, Warhawk and soon after R-Type when I was about 5 years old. Almost 30 years have past and I’ve played many, many more, but very few hold a place in my heart (or memory).
Xenoraid aims to change that.
Set in the year 2031. You take control of a small U.S star fleet based in Outpost Enceladus. The enemy have made first contact and they’re heading for earth.
These guys don’t seem too friendly, so naturally you’re going to want to shoot down as many of them as possible in an attempt to repel their invasion across Enceladus, Mars, the Moon and Phobos before finally defending earth. There’s also 4 boss battles to overcome; so it all sounds pretty much shoot-by-numbers from the outset.
However there’s a handful of features which aim to set Xenoraid apart from the regular stream of scrolling shooters we’ve seen over the years. Firstly, while you’re continually moving straight up the screen, your craft has a sway of about 45 degrees. This adds a degree of difficulty as you struggle to strafe safely between shots while concentrating your fire on one enemy. Your accuracy will take a hit, as bullets intended for a single target fly all over the place. This can become an annoyance when you spend so much time waiting for a weapon to reload or cool down. Reducing this to only a slight sway of about 10 or 20 degrees would have felt so much better, but thankfully this method has it’s perks. With careful maneuvering you can use the range to your advantage especially when trying to pick off enemies flying at an angle between incoming asteroids or falling diagonally across the screen, but it’s tough to maintain fire on a single stronger enemy.
Whilst the weapon cool down would present a problem, there’s also a pretty useful system for getting around that obstacle.
When I mentioned that you control a small fleet, I actually meant 4 ships. For some reason these guys aren’t skilled enough to fly in close proximity to each other, so you can only ever have one on screen at once. However if their health is low, or weapon needs to recharge, you can hit one of the 4 face buttons to switch between ships in your fleet.
Using the credits earned throughout the level, you can upgrade your ships as well as their weapons so you’ll want to avoid as much damage as possible so that you can invest in better guns as soon as possible. If you do take on a lot of damage there’s also the relatively inexpensive option of repairing your ship, but more damage requires more funds, so it’s best to remain cautious.
When the inevitable does happen, all is not lost because there’s always the option to purchase a replacement ship; and while this is expensive, it’s better to keep 4 ships to switch between rather than 2 or 3. As you’d expect, when all 4 ships are destroyed, it’s game over; so as well as shooting down everything in sight, there’s a degree of fleet management to ensure you have a variety of weapons in your arsenal to cover yourself for various challenges. There’s also co-op available locally, and this serves to make the game a little easier and considerably more fun, although it’s a shame there’s no online play.
Also worth a play is Survival mode. There’s only a handful of levels, but these provide a quick blast for about 10-15 minutes, which prove to be great fun and a sturdy challenge. Thankfully they pick up speed quite well, so you’ll probably find yourself heading back to these once frustration kicks in with the main campaign.
The final feature that mixes things up is the dynamic procedurally generated missions which aim to give you a fresh challenge each time you play. This does add some value to the package, however for me it’s contradicting feature. I love to see procedural generation in things like dungeon crawlers, but with a genre that’s traditionally about learning the movement of enemies; taking away that trial and error just leaves a lucky dip when approaching the tougher levels.
Graphically we’re looking at just about average, there’s a nice sharpness to everything, but nothing is incredibly detailed, and there’s no impressive pyrotechnics or effects as enemies are shot down. Sadly it all looks quite basic; and with barely a variation in colour from one enemy to the next, it has to go down as a negative point when there’s so little to get aesthetically excited about.
Sound does a marginally better job. The music ticks along in the background without ever feeling too repetitive or domineering, but on the flip-side there’s no catchy tunes or rhythm to the game. Xenoraid is also completely void of any voice acting; so just like with the graphics it adds to the list of improvements which could have improved the game