Release Date: November 17, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (eShop), PC (Steam), Playstation 4 (Playstation Store), Xbox One (Microsoft Store)
Price: $9.99 USD
Xenoraid is a shoot ’em up out of indie developer 10tons. It’s rooted in the classic action gameplay, but boasts new and modern features, those being tied into your progression and how it loosely ties in rogue lite elements into the mix. You control pilots in a squadron of four, and move from stage to stage taking on huge hordes of alien ships. You venture between different systems and occasionally get a glimpse of the dire situations each group is dealing with in regards to their alien foes.
There’s no huge over arcing story or narrative as part of the Xenoraid package. It however does through in some dialogue with characters inbetween each mission, giving an overview of the tactical and political climate. It’s not a story that will get you really involved, but it’s nice to see the effort put into giving Xenoraid some personality, character and context. At the end of the day however, your main focus will be on the stellar gameplay and overwhelming action.
Xenoraid is a very fast pace, and at times difficult shoot ’em up. It’s got some unique mechanics thrown into the mix, and that’s most notably the ability to swap in and out your any member of your four pilot squadron. Each fighter is mapped to the A, B, Y and X buttons. Each fighter can have slightly different weapon loadouts, so it’s quite necessary to do this depending which enemies you are facing off against. Not to mention, if you ships health gets too low, you can swap that pilot out to avoid losing them altogether, although you cannot instantly swap back to another ship and have to wait for a timer to expire. Keep in mind, once a ship dies, it’s gone and you will need to purchase another one.
One thing I found unique that I haven’t encountered in any other shoot ’em up is what the developer describes as realistic tilting as your ship turns. Basically, when you move left or right, your ship will tilt in that direction, resulting in your aim being tilted as well. Most shoot ’em ups I’ve experienced keep your line of fire in a straight vertical line pointing up. Not sure if this was done to add more challenge, or to actually make things easier, but I found it helpful in providing the mild ability to aim. It allowed me to do things like race across the screen and tag enemies at the edge before they disappeared. The tilt aim can be disabled if desired in the options if you want to go with the traditional method where your aim strictly points vertically to the top of the screen.
Each of the ships have quite a different feel to them. Weapons all function quite differently, whether you’re using machine guns, lasers, rockets or electric pulses. You will control between two types of ships, that being standard fighters, and heavy fighters. Standard fighters are more maneuverable, but don’t pack quite the same punch the heavy fighters do. Each ship has primary weapons, which are your standard lasers, or machine guns. There is no ammunition tied to them, however they can overheat, so you can’t just go guns blazing, otherwise you’ll be forced to wait until they fully cool until they can be used again. Secondary weapons consist of things like missiles and other variations that had a set ammunition limit.
Despite all the tools at your disposal, dealing with the hordes of enemies on screen will not be an easy task. Enemies during the first few levels start off pretty basic and easy, as usually is the case, but they gradually become stronger and in some cases, unpredictable. Some will simply fly in sending incoming fire your way, while other float and move about the screen launching projectiles in all directions. Some other bigger craft that are extremely tough to take down will sometimes leave mines that drift down the screen, or even launch fighters.
There’s a huge variety of enemies you’ll encounter and each will pose their own challenges. You’ll be constantly swapping in and out different crafts depending on the weapons you feel may be most effective. In addition to there being many types of enemies, there are some instances where there are simply a lot of enemies on screen, and dodging all the incoming fire without crashing into them and avoid overheating your weapons makes for a tough affair indeed.
To top it off, there are boss fights at the end of each section. These are massive mother ship type crafts that have a huge arsenal of weapons at their disposal. They usually have several weak points you need to take out to not only disable their powerful and devastating form of attacks, but also expose their weak points. Bosses are very intense, and on some of them, it’s guaranteed they can deplete your entire squad quite quickly, as some will have attacks that cover a wide area and also throw in regular enemies into the mix to make things even crazier.
The levels themselves can leave a bit to be desired. Their designs are more or less the same throughout the game, where you’ll either be looking at a planet in the background, or just the vast emptiness of space. They can look pretty, but end up looking repetitive as you’ll play through many levels that just don’t vary too much in their appearance. The backgrounds are also static, so there isn’t much to give away your movement forward, like most shoot ’em ups do.
The level designs also rarely contain any environmental obstacles, and when they do, they are simply asteroids. Don’t get me wrong, asteroids aren’t easy to deal with, and can ramp up the difficulty and fun of it all, but outside of that, there isn’t much to avoid dodging outside of the enemy ships. When you do enter asteroid fields, as indicating by the brief dialogue prior to starting a level, things can get quite difficult. You’ll be hard pressed to not only avoid asteroids, but somehow get into prime firing position as your real estate becomes quite limited.
Outside of simply gunning down aliens, you’ll spend a bit of time in menus upgrading your ships. As you make your way through the game, you’ll earn in game currency that can be used to either repair your ships, purchase individual ship upgrades, or purchase upgrades that affect your entire squad. There’s a good variety of things you can get that will make your journey more doable, but far from easy. Some upgrades are clearly superior and in my opinion, mandatory compared to others.
Given your limited funds, your early upgrade decisions are pretty important. It may be tempting to upgrade your ships main weapons at first, but looking at upgrades that effect your entire squad can also prove to be beneficial for the long term. Being able to have a ship automatically repaired at the end of a stage may be a big investment at first, but saves you tons of money later on. Upgrading defenses is also a viable option, whether it’s increasing all your ships overall armour, or providing a specific craft the ability to generate a shield that absorbs all damage if hit. If you do good enough, by the last few stages, you may have enough money to have purchased everything, leading to a sense of empowerment.
At this point, given all the weapons at your disposal, all the enemies you’ll face and the immensely powerful bosses, it’s no secret Xenoraid is an intense shoot ’em up game. From the opening moments, the game will keep your toes as you’ll be hard pressed to take out all alien ships, and avoid losing ships as well. The back and forth nature of losing a ship, and having to purchase and upgrade them from scratch may leave a sour taste in your mouth, but also motivates you to keep pressing on. It gives the game a mild survival aspect as you make your way through.
Xenoraid is not only very challenging, but with the plethora of weapons and upgrades available along with their strengths and limitations, the game feels extremely balanced. Never did it feel too easy, or too hard, it always felt just right, and also did a great job of making you feel like your squad became stronger every level. Most importantly, Xenoraid is extremely fun. Weeving in between enemy ships while dodging their attacks can be hectic, but when you have moments where you quickly take out multiple large ships with your heaviest attacks feels very satisfying. It’s almost like flipping the aliens the bird, or screaming UP YOURS!
Xenoraid visually takes a bit of a simple approach, but one that is effective. It uses large and crisp looking sprites for all ships you encounter. Although the ships usually repeat colour themes, the environments although repetitive, do help bring some vibrance to the experience. Seeing a green haze while flying over the Earth as you see cities lit up can be a sight to behold. Even the character sketches in between levels look very nice. Most importantly, the game runs buttery smooth, and I only ever noticed a slight slow downs towards the end as things became more frantic in terms of enemy count. Running this game in handheld mode looks great, but also comes to life on the big screen. I personally played 90% in handheld mode, but both are viable options indeed.
One small annoyance was the in game text that is used in the levels. Since you are piloting a squad of four, the occasionally have some chatter in between the action. It’s kind of cool to see it, as they say “Here they come!” or “I’ve taken damage but I’m ok.”. It adds a nice sense of personality and urgency to the whole experience, but the text is extremely small and shoved into the bottom right corner. It’s very easy to miss all of this. It doesn’t take away anything from the core experience, but it be nice to make it easier to see that the pilots life within your ship is also at stake. It would’ve made the experience a bit more immersive.
I did also notice some odd glitch with certain enemies. There are enemies that cloak and warp across the screen. It seemed when they did this, there’d be a flash of black or something that showed up on the screen. It didn’t seem intentional and looked like a glitch, and came off as very distracting when in the heat of battle.
The sounds effects in Xenoraid stick out quite well. Firing certain weapons have a nice oomph to them, making them very satisfying to use. Even the first machine gun type weapon you get, combined with an upgrade sounds really nice, and make you endlessly fire without realizing you’ve overheated. Explosions are also great and give off some nice feed back when you land some ultra precise shots.
Although the music won’t have you humming tunes away from the game, it fits the bill very well. The soundtrack is a mix of heroic sounding tracks that implement some sci-fi-ish type electronic sounds. It gives the experience this unknown vibe as if to wonder what lurks out there in space. It can also sound grand when in the thick of battle, and especially boss fights. I did like how some tracks had some nice layers to them. They featured things like distorted guitars, and even some nice fancy fat sounding bass chords that were easy to hear in the mix. With the quality music and sound effects, it’s definately a game I’d say to play with headphones if you can.
Outside of the main campaign, there is some fun to be had in Xenoraid’s other modes. You can enjoy the main campaign in coop mode, although I didn’t get to experience this myself. As far as I gather, up to four players can take control of each ship, but only one appears on the screen at a time. The mechanic to swap ships in and out remains. There is also a survival mode, which can be played solo or coop as well. In this, you participate in one of three endless stages and try to get the highest score possible. This mode will easily appeal to the competitive type, as it ties into online leader boards.
Xenoraid’s lasting impressions will really only appeal to the most competitive players out there. Once you’re done the main campaign, there isn’t much reason to jump back into it. It can also be quite a short game, as I completed it within four to five hours. It certainly is a heck of alot of fun while it lasts though. If you are up for it however, beating the game unlocks the hard mode, but that’s only if you dare, as the games hard enough without it.
Xenoraid is a great shoot ’em up on the Switch that mixes up the standard formula in subtle, but effective ways. The ability to commands squad of four pilots, each with their own unique weapons adds a good amount of depth and strategy to the experience. Not only will you need to decide what ships works best for any given situation, but you will also have the tough task of choosing which upgrades to sink your money into. Enemies are both ferocious and numerous, but with the right strategies and upgrades, they can be very rewarding to finally get the upper hand on, although the fear of losing ships mid battle will always loom over. Bosses are not only visually impressive, but will also test the toughest players out there. With the amount of customization available each with their own strengths and weaknesses along with the huge array of enemies you will encounter, Xenoraid is a very balanced experience that feels just right in the difficulty department right out of the gate. It will never frustrate players, and will never hand you anything on a silver platter. Although it may be a rather short experience with a campaign that can be completed in four to five hours, it provides a few additional modes to come back to. Even if the nature of things like survival mode with online leader boards, or hard mode may appeal to the more competitive players out their, things like coop do add some value to the package as well. At it’s price, it’s a great game to pick up for the Switch.
Disclaimer: This review was done using a Nintendo Switch copy of Xenoraid provided by the games publisher/developer, 10tons. Please be assured that this did not affect my opinion of the game, and that my criticisms are an honest and true representation of my thoughts on the game.