Let’s jump straight in and start with that twist. On paper it sounds like a nice addition, but not one that will change gameplay that dramatically. Players will soon realise however that the feature is the hook this game hangs on. In Xenoraid, players have the ability to load up their hangar with four ships in total to take into battle, and are then given the ability to swap out those ships right in the middle of a mission. Different types of ships have different primary and secondary weapons, some of which are more useful than others against particular enemy types. Even just simple player preference will play a part in choosing the right type of ship for the situation. The fact that players will encounter varying enemies within the one mission, means swapping ship types mid-mission becomes vital to success.
Ships can be bought, sold, repaired and upgraded between missions, spending gold earned from successful runs. Extra gold can be earned from within missions by shooting blue asteroids, in turn adding a non-essential but fun mining element. Shooting yellow asteroids on the other hand, causes an explosive effect, giving players another tactic to consider using.
An extra layer of strategy is added by not having to fill your hangar with four different types of ships. If you’ve discovered a ship you really dig, you can simply buy four of them and treat them as having four lives – very old school. Or mix and match to your heart’s content: three and one, two and two, and so on. The choice is yours.
Swapping ships also gives players a couple of seconds of invincibility, adding a nice get-out-of-jail option for when the odds are stacked.
What really completes the picture is permadeath. You may have bought your four ships, customised them with your available gold, and gone bravely into battle only to lose two out of the four. They are now gone for good, and new ships you buy to replace them need to be upgraded all over again. The effect this has is a wonderful sense of ownership, and the creation of real tension as you go into a mission. When you realise some of your ships are nearing critical damage, it then becomes a protective game of swapping them out unless their skills are absolutely needed.
Ship selection mid-mission is mapped to the four d-pad buttons of your controller, and smart players will soon assign their favourite ships to certain positions that will become second nature. There are some great ship varieties with interesting weapon options too. Starting with squishy but fast models baring the traditional machine gun or scattergun varieties, and eventually earning more interesting ships with lasers, homing missiles, and…well I don’t want to spoil them all for you. Unlocking them is half the fun.
The story – a pretty straight forward one involving good versus evil – is played out through the vehicle of two talking heads trading speech bubbles. It’s never the most effective method for story exposition, as watching the same two character drawings talk about what needs to be done next between every mission is far from compelling. Even just some comic book panels that varied occasionally would have been a far more engaging way of drawing players into the story. It’s a small niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.
Xenoraid presents a try before you buy business model, which works nicely. For the free download you’ll gain access to a couple of starter ships and missions, with the full game unlocked with a one time purchase. In Australian dollars the full game unlock runs in at $14.99, making Xenoraid one of the more premium purchases on Apple TV. For the full console game you are getting though, and of course the quality of the game, I’d call it a fair trade.
With the potential ship combinations, random enemy patterns, and the inclusion of an endless survival mode, there is a lot to like about Xenoraid, and I don’t see it leaving my Apple TV’s hard drive any time soon.
In A Nutshell:
Xenoraid from 10tons isn’t just a vertical shooter with a fresh coat of paint. It introduces a killer hook to hang it’s game on, but doesn’t forget that a killer hook is nothing without excellent gameplay, which it also brings to the party.