If like me you grew up in the 90s or even if you were an 80s kid, then you’ll probably have spent many hours of your childhood playing both side and vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up games. One of the most famous series for this genre had to be R-Type, it was a revelation in its day bringing gamers hours of both joy and absolute torment. Since then we’ve seen many developers trying to recapture the fun times they had playing these games so that a whole new generation of gamers can get in on the act as well. Unfortunately, many have just churned out poorly made clones (like the Empire did with their army in Star Wars Episode 2) and those that weren’t poorly made never really offered anything new and failed to take the genre to another level. So how will 10tons do with their game Xenoraid?
Well like many shoots ‘em up games Xenoraid takes place deep in space; the year is 2031 and the first space war has begun, humanity is up against what may prove to be an insurmountable alien force. In an effort to defend the galaxy from this threat, General Richards has brought together a squadron of the best starfighter pilots Earth has to offer and has given them all spacecraft kitted out with the latest high-tech powerful weaponry. With the controls in your hand, you’ll guide your team through various missions, confronting the alien menace and dodging asteroid fields. You’re the only thing standing between peace in the galaxy and hell on earth.
Starting Xenoraid you’ll be slowly introduced into how everything works with a small tutorial. Controls are simple enough to pick up; you’ve got your basic movements and fire buttons to help control your spacecraft, for which the mechanics are really good. The control is very responsive and the physics behind the way the ship moves means that if you want to go right, you don’t just strafe, your ship actually turns that way. This is very handy if you’re wanting to begin firing in the direction you move toward from the opposite side, so you can kill any incoming enemies before they get a chance to attack you. However, I didn’t really feel there was enough of a tutorial on the asteroid fields, as you soon find out by accident that if you hit a yellow glowing one with a rocket by mistake, the asteroid explodes and pieces come hurtling toward you. Then you have to change your pants because you’ve crapped yourself through a mixture of surprise and anger.
Getting the tutorial out of the way, you’ll soon begin your galactic adventure and fly off to the various battlefields around space to try and quash the enemy threat. There are a few different game modes available like a campaign, survival and even a nice co-op mode too, all as fun as each other. I decided for my review to start with the campaign; with the control in my hand and my ship on the screen, I suddenly become overjoyed, having flashbacks to a happy childhood as I sit and reminisce about the classic style of the gameplay. Nothing quite beats zipping around the screen and spraying bullets like you were a farmer sowing seeds in his fields. Before you know it, though, your controller vibrates, you’re hit! You’ve got some health left but there are still 23 enemy ships out there, you start doubting if you’ll make it out alive. But what’s that? You’re not alone, the rest of your squadron are right behind you. Quickly tap any of the A, B, X or Y buttons to switch to another (unselected) ship, and now you’re back in the game, ready to blow this disease on our solar system out of the skies.
This is probably the best and most unique feature of the game compared to others who are categorised alongside Xenoraid in this genre. You’re not this one-man army with a few lives that most games will have you believe, no, 10tons know that for a war this big you need a team, and to be successful you need to work together. As one takes damage or its weapons overheat and needs to cool down, you switch to another pilot mid-level at the push of a button to ensure you can keep the enemy on the back foot by barraging them with a sea of bullets. Without fully utilising the whole team you won’t get anywhere quickly, but be careful, you may have four pilots but they aren’t invincible. Take too much damage and that’ll be another victim lost to this needless war and you’ll have to hire a new recruit. Luckily, if you play tactfully, you may get away without losing men and just pick up a few scratches on your ships instead. The downside is that there isn’t much difference between the style of ships, they all look samey with the only differences really being the main guns. Completely different shapes or even customised colour patterns would really have made a big difference here.
If this does happen, between each mission you’ll be given the opportunity to heal spacecraft, upgrade their weapons and add additional abilities. Despite the number of upgrades being limited, this is a great system that not only allows you to improve your tools to help better equip you for future missions, it also means you can set each ship to have its own purpose. Give one a streamline machine gun to spray bullets quickly across the map, then give another a shotgun-like weapon opening up your firing angle and allowing you to hit moving enemies more easily. It’s also useful to set yourself up a heavy ship, one loaded with missiles and the most powerful of weapons so that when the big ships come, you can draft them in to help you quickly deal with sticky situations.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the game so I won’t go on much longer, but before I do go I will just quickly cover the graphics and sound. 10tons do a really good job of bringing you that sense of nostalgia with their classic gameplay style and catchy arcade-style soundtrack. Despite obviously being of a much higher quality than games you’d have played on your SNES (not that the graphics are the be-all and end-all), the design leaves you with the feeling that this is just like the games you used to play whilst still being successful at modernising everything. The only real downside to the design as mentioned above is that the ships aren’t that distinguishable and I suppose in terms of enemies, there could be more of a variety there as well. That’s not to say they don’t look that good, but even some older titles seemed to have a little more je ne sais quoi about them.
At the end of the day, in my honest opinion, Xenoraid is one of the best shoot ‘em ups I have played for a while. I’d actually forgot how much I enjoyed these games as a kid, and it isn’t until you play them again that you realise that you’ve picked back up something you love so dear. The devs have done a fantastic job in trying to update a classic genre, and its great features of using multiple ships and customising your fleet have worked really well. There are the odd flaws here and there, I mean the randomized levels do mean that you will never play the same mission again (no memorising levels like the olden days), but a couple of times I found myself stuck in an asteroid field that I couldn’t get out of and so inevitably took damage and was forced to swap ship. There was also the small case of maybe the tutorial being a little more detailed when it came to asteroids, and the design may be needing to branch out a little more, but otherwise, this game has been fantastic fun to play.