Xeno Crisis
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Long-time readers of the site will be aware of Xeno Crisis, the top-down 2D shooter that was crowdfunded a while back. Taking inspiration from likes of Aliens and Smash TV, it’s the work of a small UK team by the name of Bitmap Bureau, and also calls to mind the excellent games from the legendary Bitmap Brothers (despite the similar names, the two studios are not connected).

It’s also interesting in that Xeno Crisis, despite being created for the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis, is also getting a release on modern consoles, including the Nintendo Switch (a Dreamcast and Neo Geo version are coming, too). While the Mega Drive release is the ‘original’ game, we couldn’t help but raise a smile at the fact that we’d been sent what effectively amounts to a ‘review pack’ for a Switch title that takes the form of a 16-bit cartridge. It certainly beats t-shirts and promotional mugs, put it that way.

Xeno Crisis may be running on hardware from 1988, but it packs a punch. The action is fast, smooth and responsive, while the visuals are really eye-popping – especially when considering the age of the host console. The audio is also fantastic, with an amazing soundtrack by Savaged Regime and some surprisingly clear vocal samples (the Mega Drive was never much good at handling speech).

Because it’s essentially a twin-stick shooter, Xeno Crisis makes good use of the Mega Drive’s six-button controller to give you a single button per direction (X is left, A is down, Y is up and B is right). If you’ve played the SNES port of Smash TV you’ll be familiar with the arrangement. Grenades are triggered by the Z button, while the C button activates your dodge command – something you’ll need to make use of in the later levels when the action really hots up. Playing with the standard 3-button controller is possible, but nowhere near as intuitive. When the game comes to Switch, it naturally won't suffer from such control issues.

Bitmap Bureau sent us the Japanese variant of the game, which comes complete with a reversible cover and instruction manual (in Japanese, natch). Even the cartridge is shaped like a Japanese Mega Drive game (you can, of course, get Xeno Crisis in EU or NA forms, too). It's a fantastic little package and shows the level of detail this small and passionate team has gone to in order to create the best possible product.

We’ll be reviewing the Switch version of Xeno Crisis soon, but suffice to say, our interest has been well and truly piqued by the arrival of this refreshing old-school review copy.