At the exact time that you read this, there will be fifty-three billion vertically scrolling shoot’em up games out on the market available on every system and platform you can think of. I might have just made that up, but after several decades in existence, the vertical shooter has seen a multitude of titles, most disappearing into the nether realm after a brief existence. Xenoraid by developer 10tons, now available on the Nintendo Switch, may have its faults, but the game is a surprisingly fun addition to an excruciatingly crowded genre.
Does anyone actually pay attention to the story in these types of games? Do you sit down and hope for a Game of Thrones level of drama and intrigue? In the case of Xenoraid, don’t expect Battlestar quality of writing as you battle your way through dozens of baddies, hell-bent on destroying you. Simply put, the game revolves around the first space war between Earth and a “superior” alien race. Your new alien enemy would like nothing more than to see you dead, but humans have been playing vertical shooters for years, so we got this.
To help ward off the incoming alien raiders, players control four fighters at the start of the game, which you can instantly swap out throughout the course of a mission. As the game progresses, players have the option of buying new ships in varying styles, as well as a wide array of weapons, bombs, upgrades, and boosters. New ships, as well as the aforementioned upgrades, are purchased with credits you pick up in battle.
After each mission, players can repair their damaged ships in addition to the upgrades. Between the repairs and upgrades though, I feel the game doesn’t yield enough of the credits for everything you would want to do. At one point, I needed to buy a new ship, but couldn’t afford to also repair the damaged ones. I had to go into the next mission with one good fighter, and three that were in various states of disrepair. The fact that you need many credits for upgrades, ships, and repairs, but don’t get nearly enough during a mission, was something I felt hampered the game throughout.
Xenoraid utilizes a randomization tactic; ensuring players can’t “memorize” a level, making it easier to beat. Ships enter the viewing screen at random points, exit, and reappear in different locations. It reminded me of the classic arcade game Asteroids in the way the ships fly through space. I was impressed with the shooting mechanics of the game, which allow you to tilt your ship, shooting enemies at an angle who might be entering the playing field on opposite sides of the screen. Your ships do have a max angle in which they can turn however, which I found slightly frustrating at times when an enemy was just out of reach; I wished they allowed for full 360 firing.
When I first started playing Xenoraid, I felt the game was disappointingly easy. I am not sure if this was in order to give me a false sense of security, but after a few missions, I found myself struggling to stay alive. If anything, I would say the game is a tad uneven in the level design. Sometimes you’re begging for something to shoot, while at other points it gets a little too crowded.
The game also features a laboratory, which will allow players to research new weapons and technology to add to their respective fighters. These features can be unlocked/bought using different types of credits, which are picked up during missions. I highly recommend players pick-and-choose what to research carefully, since you have a limited number of special credits. With a lack of credits aside, customizing your ships works really well in Xenoraid. With four ships, players can modify each to best suit their needs. Having a ringer in your corner makes it easier to defeat harder enemies and bosses throughout the over 40 missions.
Another small feature that I thought made the game more challenging was its focus on shooting. In so many games of the like, you simply hold down the trigger button and destroy anything that wanders into the bullet’s path. With Xenoraid, they don’t make it so easy. Holding down the fire button will only result in your guns overheating and shutting down for five seconds as they recharge. At this point, you either have to put your flying skills to the test and avoid everything or switch to a backup fighter in the interim. I found the most effective way of dispatching enemies was short and highly focused bursts, making sure not to overheat your guns in the process.
Xenoraid is a good looking game with pretty decent sound design. If you have some friends, all game modes are playable with two to four players in local co-op. I haven’t been able to try this out due to a lack of friends, but I can imagine this feature is fun – though I can also see players getting in each other’s way.
As much as 10tons wants to think they have redefined the genre, Xenoraid is not going to go down in the vertical shooter history books. What it will do is show people there is more to this game then just your typical run and gun. You have to strategically choose your upgrades, repair and buy ships, research new technology, and repel the incoming alien raiders. The level design is a tad uneven, and the difficulty factor is all over the place, but players should enjoy this title nonetheless. The game works exceptionally well with the Joy-Con controllers, and is a fun title to have in your Switch library for wasting time when on the go.