Indie developer Daniel Fernandez Chavez of Diabolical Minds, who previously launched the hyper-stylized shoot'em up Riddled Corpses, has launched the addictive rogue-lite anime shoot'em/slash'em up Xenon Valkyrie for the Playstation Vita, and it's a doozy of a good time.
With gorgeous pixel art, fast and furious action, clever NPC dialogue, and an intriguing sci-fi/fantasy hybrid plot, Xenon Valkyrie delivers a much-needed new burst of enjoyment to the PS Vita's library.
Xenon Valkyrie tasks you with the challenge of stopping an evil witch who has horrible plans for the good people, aliens, and robots of your future land. In order to do so, you've got to take control of one of three valiant warriors: Renna, who has the power of a rechargeable shield, Nue, a high-jumping space reptile, or Eloen, a bomb-toting robo-vixen.
Your quest will send you deeper and deeper into innards of the moon, where you'll decipher ancient languages, gear up with more and more powerful swords and guns, and chat with weirder and weirder individuals. Oh, and you'll get to bash some bosses along the way, too, provided they don't bash you first!
The core of the game is run-and-gun platforming action inside large, square, procedurally-generated maps loaded with treasure containers, weapon chests, keys to said chests, and various death-inducing enemies. The controls are generally tight, with the jumps and directional controls working as they should. When it comes to shooting and chopping in alternating directions, however, there is sometimes lag between turning to and fro. This can get you into trouble when facing multiple enemies from all around, but the lag is consistent, making it more of a design choice than a quality issue. This means that extended playtime teaches you how to play around the tough back-and-forth battling, and you actually get more skilled rather than more frustrated. Overall, the combat feels like the love child of Risk of Rain and Ninja Gaiden, which is a good thing.
As it's a rogue-lite, permadeth is a give-in, although you can keep some gains, namely accrued "Teamerite." Teamerite is rock-material collected in-game that can buy you starting weapons, as well as unlock portals that will allow you to rocket to later stages after you die, instead of having to go through those you've already cleared for the millionth time.
In addition to occasional chunks of Teamerite, you'll also collect cash in the forms of gold and jewels, both from containers and defeated enemies. This can be spent in the small transitional rooms between maps, which contain Zelda-like shops, and various NPC's that you can chat and interact with. These in-between levels sometimes have unique opportunities as well, such as the option to donate money to hucksters, or decode ancient messages which will unlock new plot snippets or perks. Since the game has numerous endings, some of which are only available to specific characters, your actions in these between-stages is one of the factors used to determine which ending you get.
The characters, in addition to partially driving which endings are available to you, also grant you different special skills. Each special skill, as well as using one of your three starting grenades, uses up your skill guage, which recharges automatically. Eloen, the most accessible character, has reusable bombs which she can plant. These are extremely useful in blasting away walls to get to hidden enemies and items. Nue is also good at getting to hard-to-reach places, as he has a super-high jump as his special skill. Renna has the hardest to use skill, a brief shield, which isn't super helpful in normal stages, but can be put to good use in boss fights. Eloen, in addition to her special bombs, also starts with a key to unlock a weapon chest, which the others do not start with. Additional weapon keys can be attained by defeating larger enemies in the stages, and are available to all characters.
Bosses come between sets of stages, and indicate that the next stage will be in a new locale. Xenon Valkyrie offers diverse boss types, and many of them require unique strategies to defeat. There may be a series of attack patterns that take memorization to avoid, or there may be areas of the boss that need to be attached at certain times only. In all cases, Xenon Valkyrie does a good job of making the boss fights clear enough to learn, but not easy enough to careen through without effort. In later stages, the game is downright brutal in it's difficulty, but the Teamerite and weapon systems never allow the game to feel insurmountable, making it the kind of thing you want to pick up again and again.
graphics and sound
The soundtrack is a techno-pulse pounding treat, though a couple of stage's tracks are more repetitive than others. Luckily, they fit the tone of the game and the environments, and enhance the overall atmosphere.
The graphics are adorable and future-apocalyptic, and live somewhere between Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) and Megaman X (SNES) in detail and style. Bosses, environments and items are rendered in a 16-bit style, while player characters and NPCs are more cutesy and low-res, making for an interesting juxtaposition. It works well, except in terms of the environment and items/enemies, which occasionally blend together; this can make locating cash or enemies unduly difficult. Luckily, this isn't a deal breaker, but some border lines (especially for the enemies) would solve the issue.
Overall, Xenon Valkyrie is a sure-win for both rogue-lite action lovers and run-and-gun platform aficionados. The plot is well-represented through the text and world, and comes in intriguing bites and nibbles, and the gameplay is solid with unique weapons and attractive graphics. Add all of that together with gorgeous retro-themed graphics and a digital-fury of a soundtrack, and PS Vita gamers are sure to look forward to their morning train ride once again!
|+ Great visuals||– Some visuals get confusing|
|+ Fun gameplay and progression mechanics||– Occasional controller trouble switching directions|
|+ Interesting bosses and story|