Review: XType Plus (Wii U eShop)

The Citizen Kane of Web Framework games on the Wii U

Note: XType Plus was meant to be released on 31st July along with online leaderboards, but due to a bug in the ranking functionality the game was delayed. It was reinstated on the European eShop on 6th August, and is awaiting a North American release.

Nintendo has opened up the floodgates to indie developers on Wii U with its Web Framework for HTML5 games – an open platform for anyone with the programming grit to put their work out there – but the platform hasn't quite delivered on its promise yet. This open playing field means many of the Web Framework games so far have been microbudget one-person projects full of heart but short on quality. The latest developer to throw their hat into the HTML5 ring, however, is none other than Dominic Szablewski, creator of the Impact engine used to port HTML5 games to the Nintendo Web Framework; his German-based studio PhobosLab has launched XType Plus, a twin-stick shoot 'em up that marks the developer's first foray into eShop gaming. If anyone can succeed in HTML5 on Wii U, it's Szablewski, and XType Plus does not disappoint.

It's a fixed shooter, meaning all gameplay takes place on a single screen with enemies descending upon your lonely starship. The controls are twin-stick elegance: the left analogue stick moves your ship, and the right stick controls the direction of your shots; in "Plus Mode" you can also press R for EMP bombs, but that's as far as the button clutter goes. Considering so many Web Framework games have been touch-based affairs, it's refreshing to see a purely button-based HTML5 effort, allowing for nuance in the controls that you can't get with stylus tapping. All the action is displayed on the TV screen, while the GamePad displays the essential statistics: number of bullets fired, and number of enemy bullets dodged. It's fun to see how insanely high these numbers get. You can also use the Wii U Pro Controller or the Wii Classic Controller, making this one of the first Web Framework releases to support multiple control options.

XType Plus implements a minimalist visual style that doesn't quite stand out in the gorgeous world of shoot 'em ups, but it echoes Geometry Wars in its neon-on-black glowing flair. The aesthetic highlight by far, however, is the bumpin' electronic soundtrack by composer Andreas Lösch. Shmups tend to pride themselves on their music, and XType delivers in spades; in many ways it's reminiscent of Kenji Yamamoto's groundbreaking electronic soundtrack for Metroid Prime, albeit with a decidedly more beat-heavy feel for optimum rockitude while you blast spaceships into oblivion.

The enemies in XType are all procedurally-generated boss characters – there are no other opponents whatsoever. Szablewski says he was inspired by the 2003 Japanese freeware shooter Warning Forever, and it allows the simple gameplay to focus on the core mechanics rather than overwhelming players with gimmicky enemies or power-ups. There are two modes: Classic Mode, the traditional bullet hell three-life mode, and Plus Mode, a time attack mode with unlimited lives.

Classic Mode is what you'd expect, with bosses getting progressively tougher the longer you survive. With the small budget and web framework, XType Plus can't afford a ton of variety in enemies, so it can feel a bit repetitive after a while, but Plus Mode is where XType truly shines. Rather than rack up a high score with three lives, you must survive as long as possible with a counter ticking down to zero – destroying bosses adds time to the counter, and losing a life subtracts time. You also get three EMP bombs in this mode, which don't affect the enemies but wipe away all bullets onscreen. This mode adds just enough depth without changing the old-school game mechanics.

Conclusion

It's no Ikaruga, but XType Plus doesn't need to be; at a bargain bin price, it's a proof-of-concept for Nintendo's Web Framework that finally validates the HTML5 platform on Wii U. It'll scratch the shoot 'em up itch for fans of the genre with a no-frills approach that concentrates on core game mechanics over bells and whistles, and for newbies, XType Plus is more inviting than many other shmup titles. We hope PhobosLab's elegant twin-stick shooter is a sign of great things to come from indie developers on Wii U.