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Xenoraid Review (Switch)

Get ready for the space battle of your life! Team up in a squad or go solo to save the world from the aliens in this first ever space war. Do you think you have what it takes?

Xenoraid Review (Switch)

Introduction

The first space war has officially begun and you and your squad must work together to win the war and stop the alien invasion once and for all. This SHMUP puts you in the shoes of multiple squadrons as you slowly eliminate all of the alien threat in an attempt to win the war. There are hundreds of thousands of alien ships out there but with the right strategies and techniques, you certainly have a chance at victory. Are you ready to survive this intense action-filled onslaught?

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Mowing Down Enemies
Xenoraid is available now from the Nintendo Switch eShop for $8.99.

Story

The story of Xenoraid takes place in the near future during the year 2021 and onward. It follows several of the human teams in the space battle against the aliens who are scattered across the galaxy. How this war begins is an alien fleet heading towards Earth is detected and the attempts to communicate with the aliens fail. Existing spacecrafts are then converted into the first generation of starfighters. Years later, at Outpost Enceladus next to Saturn, the United States Star Fleet force fighting for Earth makes first contact with the enemy and the war officially begins.

There are five total operations you play through in the campaign mode, which take place in different locations around the galaxy near planets such as Mars and Earth. The campaign mainly focuses on the battle against the aliens and some of the challenges along the way for each team while also creating an overarching plot on the entire story of the war which is told chronologically through each team. Within these teams, there are all sorts of scenarios such as robots on base going rogue, but the main goal of each team remains the same throughout, and destroying the alien threat is the top priority.

The story is told mostly through dialogue from characters such as commanders, majors, and robots. This dialogue usually happens anywhere before or after missions, but once in a while, there won't be any dialogue at all. Sometimes there is also important dialogue during gameplay but these are rare as usually, the dialogue lines in levels are just basic communications such as asteroid warnings. Even your own team which you control communicates with you every time you do something such as take damage which really makes the adventure seem more meaningful as you connect with your team.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Before The Battle
The story is light and simple but well put together and it helps form the atmosphere of the game. All of the characters are rather generic and the plot doesn't have much to offer but that doesn't really take away from the main game.

Gameplay

How the gameplay of Xenoraid works is mostly what you'd expect from a standard SHMUP (Shoot 'em up), but this game also has a lot of its own unique features as well.

The controls for the game have you either using the left stick or d-pad for standard movement around the screen and to fire with your primary weapon you use the ZR button. Along with your primary weapon, each ship also has a secondary weapon that has limited ammo which you fire with the ZL button. To switch to any of your other ships, you can press any of the ABXY buttons depending on which ship you want to switch to (each ship is assigned to a button). Most buttons are also customizable in the settings if you feel the need to change something which is a nice inclusion. You can either use two Joy-Con or a Pro Controller to play this game, but sadly not a single Joy-Con. It's a shame because it would make the multiplayer a lot more accessible but the developer did say they're looking into adding support for this which would be a great addition.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Mars Mission
The gameplay mainly consists of waves of enemies swarming onto the screen bit by bit, and taking them down by firing at them. You play as the starfighter pilots and control their ships. The game takes place from a top-down vertical view just like a classic SHMUP, which means you only mostly need to worry about what comes in front of you, where most enemies enter from. You can move wherever you want, as long as it is on the screen. While moving from side to side, your ship also tilts around which angles your shots. This is something I've never seen in a SHMUP before so it certainly mixed things up and was fun to play around with. If you don't like the tilting feature you can always turn it off in the settings for a more traditional experience. The overall movement is pretty spot on and the tilting feature especially made the movement flow well.

When shooting with your primary ammo, your weapons overheat after a short time. If you do manage to overheat your primary weapon, there's a short cooldown but this can be avoided by either switching ships or watching the overheat warnings and stopping when you need to. The primary weapons on each different type of ship are unique, ranging from a shotgunlike bullet-storm to a straight up laser beam. For the secondary weapons, there is no cooldown but you do have limited ammo per stage. These weapons range from homing missiles to electric shields and usually are very powerful.

You can also have up to four starfighters at your disposal at all times, and the game encourages you to swap to a different ship when your current ship gets heavily damaged as it costs more currency to replace a ship than to repair one. All of the ships also have different stats and differences in things such as weight and movement. In the bottom right corner, it will show you all of your fighters and information for each one. It also shows which one you're currently using. When you switch ships, it gives you a cooldown on the last ship you used which means you can't switch back to the fighter you were just using for a bit. This is most likely so you don't abuse swapping out because every time you switch fighters, you're briefly off of the map and can't get hurt which means you can effectively use this as a dodge. This swapping mechanic added a new level of depth to the game and was a cool feature, although I do feel it could've been fleshed out more.

Outside of missions and before a Survival battle, you can repair and upgrade your ships and manage things like positions and tech additions. You do this in the Tech Lab and Fighter Bay which you have access to before and after battles. Here you can do things like sell, manage, and upgrade your ships, or buy tech upgrades. There are many useful upgrades and tech additions for your crew that you can buy such as shields, auto aimers, damage boosters, and more. This upgrade system was very rewarding and I really liked a lot of the upgrades.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Fighter Bay
The currency in this game you use to upgrade and buy ships with is dubbed credits and you can use them in the Tech Lab or Fighter Bay before or after battles. You can find credits in stages by defeating certain enemies or by shooting at special asteroids. You also get credits for finishing missions and having your crew promoted, which happens after you keep a ship alive and going for a decent amount of time. Another option for obtaining credits is selling your ships if you really need to. At the end of a level, it will show stats such as the time it took to beat the level/how long you lasted, how many credits you earned, and which ships got damaged, while also providing you with a sometimes helpful tip.

There are four classes of aliens ranging from small to massive, and each class has multiple unique types. These enemies all have special traits and abilities. Some can teleport around the screen, and some have giant explosives to launch at you. Usually, more enemies don't spawn until you finish off the current wave attacking. If they fly off the screen or teleport away usually the same ships will return shortly after. The AI for these enemies surprised me quite a bit as these enemies do a lot of specific and smart reactions to things such as firing and movement. For example, when you start shooting at a pack of enemy ships, usually they start moving along faster to try and dodge out of the way, and when you get really close to some of the smaller ones they zoom away. Things like this were well done and I liked this extra depth to the enemies. There is also technically a fifth enemy class, bosses. In this game, there are a couple of enormous bosses that take quite a bit more effort to take down. They also are extremely dangerous so make sure you're prepared when taking on these epic boss fights. All of these diverse enemy classes and types were great and added a lot of excitement to the gameplay, although I did feel like a lot of the enemy types were a little too similar.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Visiting the Tech Lab
Other than the enemies, there is also another hazard, asteroids. These can show up quite frequently depending on the level and they usually force you to dodge a lot more. These asteroids usually damage you quite heavily if you're not careful but they also damage enemies too which they sometimes crash into. Along with the regular asteroids that come in different sizes, there are also two types of special asteroids, explosive, and credit-filled asteroids. The explosive ones blow up and shoot bits of asteroids around the screen when you shoot at it enough, which you could use to your advantage to blow up some enemy ships, and the credit-filled ones drop bonus credits for you to use afterwards in the shops.

Every time you get hit or collide with a hazard, your ship takes a bit of damage depending on the hit. Once you get low enough, you'll start getting warnings to switch your ship out. When every fighter at your disposal has fallen, it's game over. If you're smart though, you'll be constantly switching ships, and dodging out of the way of enemy fire to stay at top health and to move forward, and repairing and upgrading your ships whenever possible.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Survival Mode

There are two modes in Xenoraid. In the main campaign mode, there are about 50 total levels spread across five operations which take place in different areas. All of the levels have different levels of difficulty which range from Easy to Hard. They also have a level of asteroid prevalence which tells you how many asteroids might appear. Each level normally lasts a couple of minutes longs and mostly has you doing the same thing of killing every alien on the stage. The number of aliens per stage can range anywhere from 30 to 200. Each stage has a preset number of enemies which you must defeat to finish the level. Before every level, the game will show you how many enemies you have to beat and in the level, it will also show a live counter in the bottom left corner. After every operation, you get a new squad of ships and all of your prior upgrades and credits are reset. I didn't mind this though as it made sense since you're using completely different ships, plus it gave a bit of a fresh start after every operation. Regardless I would've liked some kind of continuous mode where you don't reset between operations at all. Every op gives you about 10 missions which should be plenty of time to get comfy with a fighter squad. There are also a couple of checkpoints per op if you need them.

Along with the campaign, there is also a Survival mode which has you battle out aliens in classic arcade fashion in endless waves to compete for the highest score. Unlike the main campaign, this mode does not have an ending so here is the ultimate place to work on your skills and beat some high scores. You can pick from three areas, Enceladus, Phobos, and Earth. These all have different enemy types and hazards to mix things up. Before you jump into the gameplay in this mode, it gives you a set amount of credits so you can upgrade your ships how you want before the battle. In this mode, there are also a few other modifications such as secondary ammo drops from enemies to keep you going. I didn't personally think too highly of this mode as the pressure and fun were kind of taken away when put into a boring endless mode just for high scores and no other real purpose, but for others who really dig modes like this, it'd still be worth a try. I would've liked another mode or two to balance out the campaign and Survival but the two modes still delivered on their own fine.

This game is also entirely multiplayer, which means you can play every mode with some friends in co-op. Playing with other people usually drastically changes your experience, for the better or for the worse. With good teamwork, playing together can be a lot of fun but often times than not, usually things get too chaotic and frustrating overall, especially because you share the same ships. Unless everyone you're playing with is very experienced with the genre, I recommend only going up to about two or three players for multiplayer. Some sort of dedicated mode for multiplayer would've been nice too but having the ability to play the entire game with some friends is already a welcome inclusion.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Not Looking Good...
The gameplay overall is the perfect blend of classic and modern action-packed SHMUP and had lots to offer. It was a great mixture of exciting action and intense bullet-hell like dodging and it created quite the unique and rich SHMUP experience. Definitely the star of the show here.

Presentation

The presentation of Xenoraid was nothing too special but it definitely helped enhance the atmosphere and feel of the game. The music in the game is your typical space shooter music with its kind of epic broad feel and techno style but I still found these tracks to be quite catchy and they added just the right tone to the levels. There are about five main themes which play in the levels. Most of the main themes fit well and do their part in enhancing the experience. The only problems I have about the music are that there aren't many songs so once they start to repeat in multiple levels over again they start to get too repetitive so it would've been nice to have more but this was only a minor hindrance. And I also would've liked a more diverse soundtrack which would help with the repetition issue, but at least what's here delivers.

The sound design was also pretty spot on, though basic. It could've been better as the sounds feel a bit too bare and don't have the right oomph to them but they get the job done anyway. The firing and explosions sound as they should for the most part but some higher quality and more distinct sounds would've been a lot better.

Xenoraid Review (Switch) - Status Report
As for visuals, the game mostly looks sharp and clean and all of the ship/enemy designs look good and have a fair amount of detail. I especially liked the background design as it was usually very detailed and full of life with the in-depth detail and standout colours. The character design is also decent though generic like the characters themselves. They kind of gave off a kind of graphic novel feel to them. The UI and menus were also well crafted and serve their purpose. Again quite basic but they work and match the atmosphere of the game.

Conclusion

Overall, Xenoraid is a cool little throwback SHMUP and it definitely has a great home on the Nintendo Switch. The campaign alone was quite the fun ride and the Survival mode is also a nice distraction. All of the unique additions and inclusions like the upgrade system make this a unique SHMUP and if you're in any way a fan of the genre, this game might be worth a try. The game ultimately succeeded in bringing a slightly fresh experience to the table but a lot of the features felt bland and still need some work. If you're looking for a groundbreaking new SHMUP, this isn't the one, but if you want a small little shooter with co-op on the system, this should definitely be on your radar.

 PROS CONS
+ Well done campaign mode– Sound effects and music could be better
+ Interesting changeups to the SHMUP genre– Some features of the game could be fleshed out more
+ Unique experience playing both co-op and solo– A lot of aspects are overly generic and bland
+ Lots of different types of ships and upgrades– No single Joy-Con support
7
Good

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