Before I begin I would like to thank 10bit for sending us a review copy of this game.
The Switch has numerous arcade-esque titles on its virtual eShop, from classic beat-em-ups to 2D fighters. This includes the shoot-em-up (or Bullet Hell) genre of games where players take control of an aeroplane, spaceship, magical girl, octopus and so on while shooting down hordes of enemies. These games often come with power-ups and a one-hit death system made to get kids to keep coughing up coins for arcade cabinets. As gaming went on, these types of games changed or disappeared in the western market, and a new shoot-em-up called Xenoraid has emerged on Switch. This title attempts to take the modern conventions of gaming like campaigns, personalised upgrades, and more while fusing them with the older gameplay style of the classics. But does this game have the lasting power, or will it only take one-shot to send it to the back of eshop?
Xenoraid has your standard score-based arcade mode, but this is just an option and not the main focus of the game. Instead, there is a proper campaign with five chapters players can tackle, each one varying in difficulty and putting you in control of a different country’s space program. The story is your typical “alien invasion” scenario, with them getting closer to Earth every chapter. There are some recurring characters, but none of them stand-out as particularly memorable.
A change from regular shoot-em-ups is how the game is structured. Rather than a series of levels, where the aim is to get from point A to point B, you have missions about destroying a certain amount of enemies. These come in three body types and multiple varieties with different patterns. Only after all those are destroyed can you go on. If you miss an enemy, they just respawn later.
The story isn’t the focus here, but there is more of it than most shooters; it’s there if you’re interested, but it is not something I hadn’t already seen.
Xenoraid t certainly feels different from shoot-em-up classics like Gradius, R-Type, and 1942. Rather, it feels a bit more like Asteroids with elements of those shoot-em-ups thrown in. Rather than moving forward through a level at high speeds while enemies fly at you, your ship instead stays in a small area as enemies and obstacles come at you. You can only face forward though, unlike the 360 degree turns in Asteroid, while enemies can fly all over including coming at you from behind.
What makes Xenoraid unique is how it handles the different weapons and power-ups. You fire using the triggers, and your ship comes equipped with a standard and heavy weapon (like a machine gun and rockets). However, you enter each mission with four ships that you can swap between using the face buttons; each has their own hit points, shields, size and weapon load-out. It allows for a lot of variety but requires some element of forward thinking rather than most shoot-em-ups, where you rely on power-ups in the level.
Each of your four ships can be upgraded in the campaigns hub menu, where you can use in-game currency to upgrade ship part for better health or weapons, as well as purchase special skills like an EMP that goes off when you hit a certain level. There’s plenty to do, although one downside is that if your ship gets shot down you lose all that progress (minus the skills). The ships also don’t transfer from each campaign meaning that you’ll be building your squad from scrap at least four times (and it isn’t like every campaign has vastly different power-ups). Thankfully it is not too hard to get much money in this game.
Unfortunately, despite all these innovations to the formula very little is done to change up the game as it goes on, which can get very boring. There are few enemy and weapon types, and they do very little different in each mission. This can make the game a slog and is not very motivating to continue on.
The presentation in Xenoraid is nice, dropping both sprites and 3D models for a 2D CG graphics. This makes everything look clean, however, it also made it look bland. There is very little style here; almost every level looks the same. This all contributes to Xenoraid’s big issue: it is just not memorable. From the music to the characters to the levels there just is not a lot that really stands out. It all looks very safe, standard, and a bit boring, unlike most shoot’em ups which have the name ‘bullet hell’ for a reason.
Shoot’em ups are a classic of video game arcades of the past and it’s not very common to see companies try and tackle the genre today. When they do come they often rely on outdated game design; so it is nice to see a company try and add modern features and some really interesting ideas. Unfortunately, it’s all bogged down by repetitive levels and a bland presentation that turns the game from a fun change of a pace to a boring slog. This is not a bad game, and I certainly had some fun, but it just didn’t hold my interest for long.