A space-shooter from 10tons that differentiates itself from the competition in a number of ways, but also stumbles due to a few design flaws and sometimes stubborn difficulty.
World-building & Story
Unlike many of its arcade space-shooter contemporaries, Xenoraid does attempt to tell a story to tie together its action – the solar system is being invaded by aliens and Earth’s task force is dispatched to stop the mothership from reaching the planet – starting with the furthest reaches of the galaxy and slowly progressing towards the centre.
As you can guess from that description, it’s nothing ground-breaking and merely a framing device for the events to take place in. There is an effort to introduce recurring characters as the conflict progresses but they’re forgettable and their interactions weren’t the kind of thing that was going to keep me engaged in the plot for long.
Any attempt at world-building is fairly muted too – some nice little touches like having your mission select screen be the monitor of a space station is nice, but otherwise you’ll just be battling in similar-looking expanses of space without much in the way of defining features (although I did enjoy the background colour changing depending on where the action was taking place). It’s functional, but really nothing special.
Presentation & Sound
On Vita, Xenoraid is in great company among titles like Super Stardust Delta and Velocity Ultra as space shooters with a cool aesthetic. It’s inevitable that graphical comparisons will be drawn to those titles and Xenoraid doesn’t quite manage to outshine them, although it remains a fairly decent looking game in its own right.
Opting for a 2D style that looks rather plain, the game doesn’t make the best first impression. It does have some immediately redeeming features – backgrounds feature crimson reds and dark purples that frame the action well and help create the feeling of being in deep space, but things like ships and asteroids are bland and uninventive. Dig a little deeper, though, and Xenoraid definitely picks up a bit.
For starters, some of the on-screen effects end up looking pretty nice. Enemy ships explode into a cloud of smoke and the attacks and abilities of your fleet look increasingly impressive as the game progresses – some of the electrical attacks and other special moves are particular stand-outs. The way the ships themselves animate is also quite interesting, in that little thrusters appear in each corner while moving to propel the craft in the opposite direction. If I had a complaint about the presentation, it’s that collectible credits don’t look too different from enemy fire which seems like a bit of an oversight and can lead to some frustrating hits.
It’s also worth pointing out that the title performs extremely well. The only framerate issues I noticed was when there were a particularly large amount of explosions on screen, but this happened so infrequently that it never bothered me. Otherwise, the game zips along at an impressive pace and control always felt responsive as a result – which is extremely important in a title like this.
Sound is another understated area – there’s no voice acting and effects are just your usual mix of blasts and pings from weapons, but it’s the soundtrack which is surprisingly good. A stirring set of pieces which really help create the feel of an epic conflict, the team at 10tons did a great job with this – far removed from the electronic trance of something like Super Stardust Delta yet equally as good.
Gameplay & Content
Eschewing the usual twin-stick formula with something more unique, Xenoraid is a space shooter that does allow full movement within its confined spaces yet only allows you to face in one direction – upwards – forcing you to adopt new strategies to take down the waves of foes it throws at you as you’ll only be able to hit them from certain angles.
It’s certainly an interesting setup and encourages fun play – you’re effectively managing the lower area of the screen as well as you can while enemies approach from above. You’ll face off against all manner of alien craft capable of firing at you; shielding themselves and even cloaking meaning you’ll have to fire blind at times. They’re all mixed in with each other meaning that you’ll constantly be up against different setups, forcing you to adapt your strategy to cope and adding to variety.
In another unique twist for the game, at all times you’ll have access to a fleet of four ships which you can switch between at any one time – so rather than having one ship with multiple weapons, you have multiple ships each with one weapon – which means you’ll constantly be switching depending on what you’re facing. A heavily armored enemy craft will require your highest firepower ship to take down, but this will often come at the expense of maneuverability.
You’ll also gain other perks such as weapons reloading while they’re swapped or a brief moment of invulnerability during the changeover and this can be very helpful when the screen is littered with projectiles. Yet in spite of this, the game can feel frustratingly challenging at time due to your foes’s ability to fly below the area you can aim in – exacerbated by some patchy AI in general that at times can fly straight into your craft or alternatively nowhere near it then straight off the screen again.
Speaking of difficulty, the game features a somewhat rogue-lite system in that if any of your ships are destroyed, they’ll be gone forever and you’ll have to buy a new one to replace them. This means also losing all of the pilot’s progression through the ranks which again can feel rather punishing given the otherwise arcade-y feel of the game, but also adds a nice sense of urgency to protect your craft to avoid this happening.
Outside of combat, the game throws a lot of choice at you. While you’ll progress through levels in a linear fashion, you’re given plenty of options for customizing your fleet of ships ranging from upgrading their weapons to buying tech that allows cheaper repairs or evacuation if they get destroyed. You’ll also be able to buy new craft to replace any that are destroyed, providing incentives to collect all the credits found scattered during your missions.
Xenoraid‘s missions themselves are grouped into sets based on the planet you’re defending and this adds a second layer of rogue-lite progression. Each new planet resets your progress meaning you’ll have all-new ships and will have to unlock all your perks again – which definitely helps add variety and encourages you to experiment, although was a little disappointing given all the hard work you’ll have put in on a previous area.
Content-wise, the game has a decent chunk to offer – with plenty of individual levels set between the five planets, it’ll keep you occupied for a while and is well worth the price it’s going for in that regard. There’s also a survival mode to encourage high-score chasing replays, a nice addition to add a little longevity to the title.
A nice variation on the space-shooter formula, Xenoraid is a great game to pick up and play for a few rounds of alien-blasting action. It has its problems, ranging from some frustrating deaths due to the game’s mechanics and some issues with the progression system, but it’s an enjoyable time that’s well worth the asking price on Vita.