Developer/publisher 10tons Ltd. is back at it again on Nintendo Switch with their latest vertically-scrolling spacecraft shoot-’em-up meant to take place in a period of the earliest galactic wars. Xenoraid rids of high scores & enemy pattern memorization for its 5 chapter campaign to focus on mechanical elements that results in a balancing act for gameplay accompanied by smooth controls. Holding down the ‘shoot’ button is how you lose against waves of enemies because managing when to be offensive or defensive is integral to its design.
Xenoraid’s campaign contains just over 40 missions spread across 5 different chapters. You can choose to go it alone or have up to 4 player co-operative play locally to make it things more fun. To help the player get a general idea of what to expect for each level before hopping in, the game’s narrative are exchanges between characters describing the alien threats you are about to encounter. The story is kept rather simple and is there to give a heads up on enemy types. Upon choosing a chapter, each mission within it play in order with no level selection in mind. While you can return to any chapter to replay it, the only way to replay a mission is to play up to that point. Each chapter contains missions within a bracket that when completed offers you a checkpoint to resume from that point on your next play session.
You begin each chapter with 4 fighter ships and 1000 credits which you can spend. You’re welcome to sell every ship but one for credits if you wish, or spend the credits you have by upgrading ship abilities. There are two categories of main upgrades: “Tech Lab”, which include offensive/defensive upgrades that will apply to all of your ships universally, and “Fighter’s Bay” which via menu behaves like a garage where you can repair, buy or sell ships, and upgrade each ship individually. More of either type of upgrades, as well as ship variants, unlock as you progress through the campaign. Owning 4 ships is never a bad thing and although it’s not required to play each mission, much of it falls to the player’s decision. You see, each ship owned behaves like an extra player in reserve. You can deploy and take control of only one fighter at a time per mission, but the others are in reserve which you can swap out on the fly (so to speak) on the battlefield.
Xenoraid isn’t a bullet-hell, fast maneuvering ‘schmup’. Most games in the genre traditionally have the the vehicle move at a consistent speed no matter where the player is directing it, very light and floaty, to keep up with the intense action of a thousand bullets or lasers coming towards you in a matter of seconds where if you fail, you will try to memorize its pattern and get through it better next time. The enemies in Xenoraid are procedurally active. While there’s always a specific number and certain types of enemy per mission, when they show up and how they will maneuver will never be the same. Partially because of that, Xenoraid is also all about player control first. Ships have a certain weight to them. Moving either left or right will cause the ship to tilt in its direction effectively allowing the player to shoot diagonally. Cosmetically, the ship sways in the direction you are going and compliments the feeling of the controls. Each fighter has a primary weapon and secondary weapon and you’ll soon realize that upgrading your favorite fighter might take priority over buying a new ship and vice-versa.
There are no pickups in each level. Secondary weapon ammunition are limited. Guns can also overheat. You have to be mindful of how much you are firing and not carelessly spray into the empty void. Each ship has their own health bar and damage taken is carried over after the mission in which ships need repairs by spending credits obtained. As one would expect, once a fighter has reached 0 health they cannot be used, but it’s not as simple as repairing a completely totaled ship. That fighter is gone permanently, upgrades and all. Perhaps you’d rather spend credits on armor and upgrading one or two ships instead of having 3 or 4 ships that have less features. It’s up to you. Completing each mission will earn you more credits so the choice to become more powerful will always be granted after each mission and luckily you can buy another fighter if you lose one, though it’s always best to retry the mission in order to keep upgraded ships. You also earn additional credits when ships move up in rank from more time played with them. Pretty much any gameplay mechanic in the game can be tailored to your advantage.
Swapping out fighters during battle can not only change the play style, but also save you in the moment. During an oncoming asteroid or projectile which you know will terminate your fighter, swapping it out for a fighter with more health may just keep your main ship in the game for longer. One thing to note is the during missions the game doesn’t inform you on which button input is tied to which fighter and the on-screen icons made it confusing to decide which one I was choosing during intense moments. I quickly found out that the layout of the ship icons resembles the face buttons on your controller. This is a lot easier to visualize and react accordingly when there’s 4 available ships, but any less ships, such as 2, made it confusing. As you can see in the image displayed above, there are two ship icons. Do they represent the up and left face buttons or do they represent the right and down face buttons? Swapping out ships are assigned to the same buttons no matter what, so they will always follow as “X, Y, A, B” in that exact order no matter how many ships are available. On the matter of finding your favorite ship to use, they are all specific archetypes. Their weapons all behave like different guns. You’ll have automatics, semi-automatics, shotgun spread, plasma thrower and laser beams just to name most. At first I loved the shotgun ship type then quickly made laser ship type my favorite as soon as I unlocked it. The choice will vary between players as secondary weapons will also contribute to what fits play styles best. There are also 4 boss fights worth looking into. 10tons Ltd.‘s groovy techno flavor music is good enough to keep the arcade action going without sounding military.
There’s more than the campaign. There are in-game achievements for completionists waiting to be obtained, though the first 5 are earned naturally during the campaign. There’s also Survival Mode with three stages to choose from all with their own online leaderboard. The game is $9.99, but will be $8.99 during the launch week making it a nice action title especially if you like to kick back and play with a couple of pals.