Another week, another indie shooter drops on the Nintendo eShop. While it would be rude to complain about the number of games coming to Nintendo's newest console, the roguelike shooter has been more than popular among developers and publishers on the machine. With that in mind, there is a balance to find between tapping into a beloved genre and adding enough to make it both interesting and stand out from the crowd.
Xenoraid is a space-themed, top-down scrolling shooter from developer 10tons, who have recently brought over JYDGE, Neon Chrome and Time Recoil to the Switch. While these were twin stick shooters with varying degrees of variety and narrative, Xenoraid is much more 'straight up', both figuratively and literally.
Top-down shooters aren't lauded for their narrative impact, and Xenoraid doesn't attempt to change the formula. It's a pretty predictable and shallow 'save the world from an incoming alien invasion' set up, and will win no prizes for the stale attempt at epic-sounding hero speech rhetoric; the generic dialogue exchanges are pretty disposable but aesthetically reminiscent of Time Recoil. Presentation overall is functional yet derivative, save for the (inter)stellar ominous ambient synth soundtrack and meaty gunfire sound effects. The characters are well drawn but static, with no moral ambiguity or personal demons, just a bunch of astro-heroes wanting to save the planet. The softly coloured planets and cosmic backdrops are similarly pleasant, if a little limited. There are also asteroid fields to navigate on a regular basis, while the enemy types lack both individuality and variety in terms of visuals, but have decent lighting effects and smooth motion.
Thankfully, the game doesn't take long to move on and you are into the action fairly quickly. Each of the five chapters are split into between six and ten stages, with a short exchange between pilots setting up each scenario. There is the option to buy, sell, repair and upgrade spacecraft in between levels, but as this feature doesn't carry over from chapter to chapter, there is more a sense of short-term achievement rather than long-term resource management.
The game's HUD during a battle explicitly displays the number of small, medium and large enemies that have to be destroyed in order to progress in the bottom left, while the status of your fleet is bottom right. The enemies come in waves, with small dialogue boxes appearing regularly to try and add some tension to the proceedings. Buying and using custom load-outs and special abilities will aid your progression, such as a screen clearing nuclear blast when someone runs out of health. While using these abilities add a little strategy, truth is, the resource management in between stages, while competent, takes a back seat compared to the games main gameplay crux.
In addition to the standard movement using the left stick and ZL and ZR to deploy primary and secondary weapons, in any given stage you have (finances permitting) up to four spacecraft at your disposal. Furthermore, you are able to swap out these ships on the fly during a stage by tapping one of the four face buttons to deploy the corresponding vehicle. The swapping mechanic in game can be used to a player's advantage, as it renders the craft impervious to enemy attack for a short time. The largest types of enemy ships have devastating and resolute homing missiles that will test your reflexes. It takes a bit of getting used to, but switching ships regularly is a skill worth honing, as the outline as to where the next craft will appear allows for a little shrewd strategy during more heated sections.
Paradoxically, with regular switching between vessels, it's difficult to truly master the handling of any one craft. As you progress, more ships and weapons become available, but the ships themselves have very little identity in terms of visuals, and are all very similar looking. Although the craft are not particularly striking or different from one another visually, controlling their movement varies greatly. In combat, your firepower is limited but your bullet's trajectory is based on your ship's direction, as opposed to keeping its straight line, and each ship handles differently. Regardless of which ship you are controlling, though, none of them feel tight enough compared to other games in the genre.
There are also two additional modes outside of the main campaign, including a survival mode and local coop for up to four players, which is, of course, ideally suited to the Switch hardware. In handheld, the game runs smoothly, and while it technically doesn't struggle, the coop mode is best suited to a big screen.
Although Xenoraid does nothing to shake up the genre, changing spacecraft in the heat of battle and using different weapons on the fly tries to add spice to an otherwise solid but unspectacular top-down shooter experience. The characters, dialogue and locations are neither varied nor dynamic enough to be very engaging, and the gameplay, while serviceable, will satisfy but certainly not impress anyone who has already played one of its ancestors or contemporaries, either on Switch or elsewhere.