App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Shooters, and other arcade games like it, have always had to keep a very delicate balance when it comes to challenge. If the game is too easy or is generous with lives, completing won't feel rewarding. But, if the game is too demanding, it'll push you away before you get very far. Xenoraid is a game that has–through a variety of ways–made the prospect of arcade shooting feel constantly intense. Even though it take a bit for the game to really hit its stride, Xenoraid makes for some fantastically white-knuckle action without ever feeling too overwhelming.
The first thing you might notice when playing Xenoraid is that it takes the idea of having lives and continues and throws them out the window. Instead, players can have up to four ships that they can switch between at the press of a button. Each of these ships have their own life bars, and if you lose one, it's gone for good.
When first starting the game, these ships might look and feel pretty similar, but the further you get into the game, you'll gain access to more and more ships that all have unique weapons, abilities, and upgrades. As things escalate, you'll need to manage your fleet carefully to make sure you have all the tools you need to take down your alien foes.
XCOM in space
Instead of being a typical shmup experience, Xenoraid's structure feels more akin to something like XCOM. Between missions, your pilots will earn promotions, you can research new technologies that benefit all your ships, or install upgrades to your individual fighters. Also, the game is divided into individual worlds, with each culminating in a big boss fight before resetting your tech and ship progress for the next world.
These systems are not as fleshed out as XCOM, but they do help you feel a lot more invested in keeping your ships alive and help you tailor a squad to your particular play style.
Not so hellish
Something important to note about Xenoraid is that its shooting is not of the “bullet hell” variety. Things can get pretty crazy on screen, but that usually only happens if you aren't quick on taking out enemies as they appear, especially during sections where asteroids appear on screen. Xenoraid feels a lot more focused on precision and using your weapons properly without overheating them. If you can't do this, then the game will be sure to punish you.
While I definitely appreciate this style of shooter design, the challenge and variety that Xenoraid offers doesn't show up until after the second set of levels. This slow ramp seems completely unnecessary, making the first parts of the game really feel like a slog.
Houston, we have some small problems
Aside from the slow start, Xenoraid also has a couple small issues that are worth noting. The first is that its framerate can drop considerably when taking out large numbers of enemies. There is a graphics setting that allows player to adjust the level of detail, but even when turning it down, you may experience this issue.
Second is that the game offers a Survival Mode, which allows you to face off against wave after wave of enemies to try and hit a high score. It's a great idea for a mode that gives Xenoraid some additional replability, but it also feels pretty barebones in its execution.
The bottom line
Despite not giving the greatest first impression, Xenoraid is a pretty great shooter that manages to feel intense without getting overwhelming. It has a few flaws that persist further into the game, but overall, Xenoraid is well worth paying for and sticking with.