There are so many shoot 'em ups that you'd think it's all been done by now. However, Xenoraid has an interesting ship-switching mechanic that breathes new life in the genre so get your thumbs ready for some intense space combat.
On the surface, Xenoraid seems like a generic vertical shmup but there's more to it than you'd expect. Besides shooting at oncoming enemy forces, you also have to constantly switch your ship between a selection of four because they easily overheat. Choosing the most capable one for the given situation can be tricky so you have to constantly be prepared for any possibility. The core gameplay is extremely simple as all you do is soar around the screen and fire primary and secondary weapons. The primary weapons overheat quickly while the secondary ones have limited ammo. An interesting implementation is that as you move left and right, your ship rotates slightly so aiming while avoiding enemy fire is a challenge in itself but I never found it irritating; it's just a part of the gameplay that keeps you on your toes. In the end, the high difficulty blends wonderfully with the simplistic gameplay and ship-swapping mechanic to make one addictive arcade-like formula.
One of my biggest complaints about Xenoraid is its graphics. It looks like a Flash game with stereotypical space backgrounds and generic ships and enemies. The best part of the visuals is the fact that they're very clear and intuitive which helps streamline the gameplay but I still wish there was more complexity to help make it visually exciting and hence match the gameplay. The music is moody and unmemorable but the sound effects thankfully add satisfaction to the constant exchange of gunfire. Overall, Xenoraid's graphics and sound are serviceable but you'll quickly forget about its superficial aspects once the gameplay gets its hooks in you.
Although the ships are quite similar upon starting a new game, they gradually offer an impressive amount of variety in later campaigns. Using one ship's grenade launcher to destroy an enemy shield then setting it ablaze with another ship's flamethrower is just awesome. The main mode is divided into five campaigns that each features quite a few stages. Between each stage, you can use earned money to either buy universal enhancements or upgrade, repair, or purchase individual ships. There's such a wide variety of weapons, ship types, abilities, and upgrades that experimenting to find a winning combination for your play style can take a long time. Crafting a capable fleet of ships to take on the epic bosses is quite an enjoyable feat especially when you finally pass a campaign that you previously failed.
As I've already mentioned, Xenoraid is one tough game. It's devastating when you almost make it to a checkpoint then all of your ships get destroyed thus forcing you to work your way through half an hour or more of challenging gameplay all over again. Because of this, casual gamers will likely find it far too irritating to thoroughly enjoy. Whether you're a casual gamer or genre veteran, one aspect that's hard to overcome is that the playfield is too wide. I wish the developers made it narrower or instead made it scroll horizontally. Basically, the wide field means that an enemy can spawn on the far side of the screen, fire a few shots, and escape without you having enough time to catch up with it. Whenever a cloud of enemies spawns on the other side of an asteroid belt and they keep firing projectiles in your direction, it's hard not to shake your head as you desperately try to navigate your way past the sticky situation.
After all is said and done, Xenoraid is a fresh take on a decades-old formula. Even though it has its problems, it's definitely an enjoyable challenge that any genre enthusiast will be happy to add to their library.
- + Simple yet challenging gameplay with an awesome ship-switching mechanic
- + Variety of weapons and abilities
- + Neat upgrade system and fantastic bosses
- - Making any kind of progress can be too frustrating for casual gamers
- - Wide playfield frequently becomes tedious
- - Visuals are quite generic