Xenoraid is one of the newest releases from 10tons, the developer behind popular top-down shooters Neon Chrome and Crimsonland. I loved Neon Chrome, so when I realized this one was heading over to iOS, I had to jump on it.
Xenoraid is a vertically-scrolling shoot em’ up that tells the story of humanity’s desperate struggle against aggressive aliens and it plays out over the course of five campaigns. The first is actually accessible for free and lets you get your feet wet before committing to the full game. You’ll have to deal with a few ads as you play through it, but that’s a small price to pay for a great preview experience, and I always appreciate this gesture.
There’s not much story on offer here, and it feels like a token addition at best, with small snippets of dialogue that pop up between missions. I did enjoy the transmissions that came in during missions though — they certainly helped create a more immersive experience. In addition to the main campaign, Xenoraid includes a survival mode that pits you against endless waves of enemies. There are three different stages to play through, plus online leaderboards for the competitive crowd. It’s a nice bonus that extends the replayability, though there’s more than enough content for the asking price.
I imagine most shmup fans won’t be too bothered by the minimal story effort, as combat often reigns supreme in games like this. That’s definitely the case here, but Xenoraid strays from the traditional formula in several ways.
This is not a bullet hell game. Some levels do get substantially hectic, but the focus is on shooting rather than dodging. Expanding on that, Xenoraid rewards precision shooting over mindless weapon-spamming. Every weapon can overheat, meaning you’ll have to time your shots carefully to be effective. You’re also equipped with special weapons like rockets and EMP bombs that add a nice layer of strategy.
There’s a way around the overheating though — instead of lives, Xenoraid uses a unique ship-swapping mechanic. You have four ships at your command, each with different primary and secondary weapons. All it takes is a touch to swap one from ship to another, and considering that some weapons don’t work well against some enemies, you’ll have to become proficient at this to advance. It’s a fun concept that works well enough, but I often found myself wishing for more substantial differences between ships.
The ship upgrade system helps make up for that, though. Each type of ship features four upgrades that you can purchase with your hard-earned credits, ranging from more bullets per shot to special weapon boosts. There’s also a tech tree that provides universal upgrades like increased ship armor and free post-mission repair. Both sets of upgrades improve your odds of powering through enemy squadrons, but individual upgrades come with two drawbacks. First, since each new campaign features a fresh set of ships, the upgrades won’t carry over. And second, when a ship blows up in combat, it’s gone for good.
That lends a hefty amount of difficulty to the experience that’s compounded by the game’s checkpoint system. For harder missions, you might need to win only one to hit a checkpoint; for easier missions, however, you’ll need to win three or more in a row. If you lose all your ships, you’ll head back to the last checkpoint. That’s compounded once again by Xenoraid’s procedurally-generated levels that, unlike many other shoot em’ ups, makes it impossible to memorize missions.
On top of all of that, you’ll also have to deal with Xenoraid’s piloting, and that takes time to learn since you don’t have the leisure of predictable straight-line movement. Instead, it’s weighty and some float occurs with each move. This design makes piloting ability just as important as shooting ability, and once you get the hang of it you can make some sweet shots. But getting the hang of it was a problem for me, and I can’t say that I ever did. I’m sure that’s partially a result of my very average skill level, but I feel like the controls lack precision too.
Visually, Xenoraid is pleasing to the eyes and there’s plenty of detail. The environments are colourful and both your ships and enemy ships feature distinctive lines and fun designs. I especially enjoyed the contrast of the human retro-inspired, NASA-like spaceships compared to the aliens’ technologically superior vessels.
Although I’m still convinced that the controls could use some improvement, that’s not enough for me to hold back a recommendation. Since the first set of missions is free, you have a chance to test the controls for yourself before making a purchase. With its interesting twist on the genre formula, Xenoraid has something to offer to both seasoned shoot em’ up players and non-fans alike.
Xenoraid (Reviewed on iOS)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
I'm not entirely sold on Xenoraid's controls, but the rest of the game is more than polished enough to recommend it, and there's plenty of content for the asking price.