When it comes to twin stick arena shooters like Xeno Crisis, we’ve been blessed (cursed?) with a deluge in recent years. Whether it’s The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, Ruiner, Helldivers or Nex Machina, it’s fair to use the word ‘glut’ when describing the sub genre’s resurgence.
To my mind, the indie boom of the Xbox 360 was kickstarted by Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved – I’m probably forgetting all sorts of crucial, critical titles – and these simple shooting games are now a mainstay of the independent scene.
Although Xeno Crisis looks a little basic on first inspection, it earns a second glance once you discover it’s a Mega Drive game. That’s right: although it debuted on PC and home consoles, it’s designed as, and will be getting a physical release as, a 4MB cartridge for the original hardware (or the Mega Sg, if your tastes lie in that direction).
Although I never let the platform a game’s released on sway me on its gameplay properties, the game is a thrilling technical achievement. Taking its inspiration, as the Bitmap Bureau’s website states, from “Smash TV, Contra, Mercs, Granada, Alien Syndrome, Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Chaos Engine, and Shock Troopers”, XC is a grab-bag of nineties action game tropes.
The game starts by plonking you – dropship stylee – in front of a very xenomorph-y backdrop from which you enter the first arena. Anyone familiar with the genre will know what comes next: doors open, critters pour out, you blow them away until you get overwhelmed.
Xeno Crisis introduces a few wrinkles; not enough to call them innovations, but interesting enough. Firstly, your basic weapon – a pulse rifle clone – has limited ammunition. To ramp-up the tension and difficulty, you have to collect ammo from boxes dotted around the stage otherwise you’ll be stuck relying on your melee weapon, a knife that deals a lot of damage but has zero range. Good luck facing the nasty hordes with just a blade and some pluck.
Of course, an arena shooter without weapon options would be…well, Robotron, and therefore amazing…but it’d be an edge case, for sure. Xeno Crisis brings a good few fire-spitters to the table, although they tend to be tried and tested archetypes: rocket launcher, three-way shot, lasers etc. and you have a small number of grenades that can be replenished. Your basic shot, grenade and health stats can be upgraded at the end of each level, along with your speed and a couple of other things.
Currency for these updates comes in the form of dog tags, dropped when regular baddies are killed. As you need to clear any given room before unlocking progression to the next, the supply is pretty constant. A good job, too, as the game is skewed towards the ‘tough’ end of the spectrum.
Standard enemies vary between Alien-alikes, amorphous blobs, humanoids and robots; the vibe changes as the game progresses and scoops-up inspiration from the likes of TMNT and the Predator franchise along the way. In all honesty, I’m not big into nostalgia and the constant use of Konami’s metallo-punk looks, Hollywood’s mega-monsters and SNK’s melty animation got a little boring. Much of that’s down to me being a tired old Gen Xer who saw it all the first time around, but to be fair a lack of inspiration is a lack of inspiration. It may have been a marketing tactic, but for me it’s still a lazy one.
We should always recognise excellence, though, and squeezing this amount of style – borrowed as it may be – animation, and even random level generation into a Mega Drive cartridge is a superb accomplishment. As a choice for your PC or modern console, Xeno Crisis is solid (if a little over-priced at £15.99 at time of writing) and you may want to exhaust the more unique, modern and – ironically – cheaper options first. With its platform-stretching graphics, cracking tunes and overall technical polish, though, the upcoming cartridge release is probably an insta-buy for Mega Drive fanatics.
Xeno Crisis is solid (if a little over-priced at £15.99 at time of writing) and you may want to exhaust the more unique, modern and – ironically – cheaper options first. With its platform-stretching graphics, cracking tunes and overall technical polish, though, the upcoming cartridge release is probably an insta-buy for Mega Drive fanatics.
Review Supplied by @Treble_Alpha