I’ve always been a fan of 2D shooters. I have fond memories of playing Xenon 2 with my cousin on his Amiga back when I was a boy. I find them just as fun today as they were back when I was 8 years old. The Vita has had some excellent 2D vertical shooters like Velocity 2X and Sky Force Anniversary, so when I first saw the trailer for Xenoraid I was eager to play the game but also apprehensive about whether the developer 10tons could bring anything new to the genre. Fortunately Xenoraid didn’t disappoint.
The scrolling and shooting aspect of the game is similar to other 2D shooters: you control a fighter ship as it travels onwards through space and take on hordes of enemy ships and the occasional boss ship. What sets Xenoraid apart from other games in the genre is that you get to control 4 ships on each mission with different primary and secondary weapons. The types of ships vary depending on the power of the weapons and their manoeuvrability. The ships felt very different and some of the slower types of ships that I didn’t like at first really grew on me later when I was forced to play them and really learn how to use their guns to maximum effect. You can swap between ships during the mission to deal with the different enemy types and also to avoid losing a ship that’s taken a lot of damage. You collect money from destroyed enemies and at the end of each level, you can use the money to upgrade your ships or you can buy replacement ships for any that you lost in the level.
Having four ships to freely swap between is almost like having 4 lives available for each level. This may seem generous, but the game compensates for this by being very difficult. Firstly, the standard health of each ship is low. It’s very easy for a wave of enemies to destroy you if you aren’t careful about how you dodge incoming bullets. Also the enemies’ movement seemed very smart to me. I found a lot of times I was taking damage because the enemy ships pre-empted where I was going to move. Many 2D shooters I have played had enemies that moved in a standard pattern that you could learn as you replayed levels, but Xenoraid’s enemy movement was more random and difficult to predict. As a result, I found myself taking a lot of damage even in the early levels. With meteors drifting around the screen, random enemy movement and homing missiles to worry about, the game requires you to concentrate at all times. I enjoy challenging games and dying in Xenoraid kept me coming back again and again to try and beat those difficult levels.
There’s a decent variety to the enemy ships, from basic fighters to large, shielded ships that shoot homing missiles. Each level has a set number of enemies to kill so when an enemy disappears to the bottom of the screen, it will reappear later in the level until you destroy it. You can’t just get away with dodging bullets to get to the end of the level! The need to destroy all enemies and the variety of weapons available opened a strategic aspect of the game. At any moment you have a lot of choice about what type of weapon and ship to use and whether to do some damage to larger ships on-screen so that its easier to finish them off the next time they appear or to concentrate on the smaller annoying enemies.
The game has a story unfolding through text screens between levels. I found the generic story of aliens attacking Earth to be pretty boring and by the second set of missions, I was skipping them entirely. Ultimately it was the gameplay that drew me to Xenoraid, not the story. The game is broken down into 5 areas each with a set of around 8 missions of varying difficulty and a boss level to cap off each area. When you finish a mission you can’t replay it. There never seemed like enough money to buy all the ships upgrades and you start off with fresh unlevelled ships when you move to the next area. The completionist in me wanted to be able to replay missions to get enough money to fully upgrade all my ships. This again added to the difficulty by not allowing the player to replay easy levels to grind for cash and have an over powered set of ships. It also added more weight to each upgrade choice because once you spend that money its gone and if you don’t earn enough on the next level you may not be able to repair damaged ships or replace lost ones.
Aside from the main game, there is also a survival mode to play. Distilling the gameplay into a never-ending battle brought all the fun and challenge of the main game. The trophies linked to survival mode also helped motivate me to play again and again to try and complete the challenges.
Overall, I found Xenoraid to be fun, challenging and good for short bursts, when playing the main missions, or for longer runs when playing survival. There is also a great sense of accomplishment in getting through a tough level. Being able to EMP a massive enemy to take down its shield and destroy it with my levelled up laser weapon was very satisfying. As an added bonus, it doesn’t take up much room on your memory card (which is always useful). If you like 2D shooters then this is an easy game to recommend.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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