As technology improves and games become more complex, traditional old school genres of games are becoming less frequent and more unpopular. Side scrolling beat em ups, traditional platformers, 2D beat em ups and shmups are such genres that are fading away in a deluge of FPSs, action/adventure and RPG titles. However, thanks to Xbox live arcade and PSN it seems that shmups at least are making a bit of a comeback. Everyday Shooter, Omega 5, Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD are perfect examples of great shmups available to download and with the legendary Ikaruga on the horizon everything seems set. So does the arrival of Trigger Heart Exelica on Xbox live arcade signal the launch of another classic shooter? When I first purchased this game my 360 actually Red Ringed when downloading was about 12% complete. Now was this because Exelica was simply too awesome for my then 360 to handle? or was it a warning to avoid this stinker of a shmup?
Trigger Heart Exelica
Developed by: Warashi
Available on: Xbox Live Arcade
Price: 800 points
The core of Exelica
is the same as any other shmup, you dodge barrage after barrage of enemy bullets and destroy anything that pops up on the screen and collect the occasional power-up. This should come as no surprise. The gimmick that makes Exelica
stand out from the shmup crowd is the capture system the game employs, so here's how it works. By pressing and holding the anchor button on the controller you lock onto any enemy that you are facing. If the enemy you have locked onto is a ground unit (tank or turret) or a boss then your fire is automatically aimed at your target regardless of where you are on the screen. Your movement is also greatly reduced which makes dodging dense bullet patterns a little easier and more accurate. Now this may not sound like much and really it isn't, but when you capture an flying enemy unit then something completely different happens and this is where Exelica
comes into its own.
Firstly you are unable to shoot at an aircraft you are locked onto but if you keep the anchor button held down you can "capture" the enemy unit. The bigger the enemy the longer you have to hold down the anchor button to capture them. Small fry can be captured instantly whereas their bigger brothers can take several seconds to capture where you movement is reduced almost to a crawl and you will have to dodge many many bullets with your name on them and of course you can't return fire. While capturing, a timer in the form of a percentage appears over your target to indicate how long you have left to wait and when it reaches 100% is when the fun begins.
Once a flying enemy is captured you have two options. You can either use them as a shield or you can spin them around and throw them back at your enemies for destructive results. Spinning and throwing enemies back is more complicated as while holding down the anchor button you have to then hold down the shoot button to "reel them in" and then rotate the analog stick/d-pad to gain momentum and then release to launch your enemy. This feels very unnatural at first and takes quite some time to get used to although there is an auto rotate option which unsurprisingly automatically spins captured enemies by just holding down the capture button but takes away an important element of the game mechanics. For less destructive power you can also nudge captured foes into nearby enemies but spinning and launching them can take out way more enemies. While being spun your captured enemies also block any bullets they come into contact with until they blow up from too much damage and that's pretty much how the capture system works.
The problem with the capture system is this whole spinning system. As I mentioned above it feels unnatural and takes a fair bit of practice. Not only that but you need to maintain a steady rhythm in your rotations to keep your enemy spinning at a decent speed which also determines the speed at which you throw them. This leaves you practically defenseless as you can't really dodge bullets when you're spinning your captured foe. Another tricky aspect of the system is throwing the enemy in the right direction as you're going to want to throw them at a fast speed to do maximum damage but that means spinning them at a fast speed and releasing them when you are facing the right way so you don't end up lobbing them off the screen. All this comes with practice but can lead to frustration when you first begin playing the game however, when you master it it does become incredibly satisfying, addictive and fun.
The scoring system in the game is also very well thought out. When you defeat any enemy they drop yellow diamonds and you collect these to increase your score multiplier. The longer you survive, more bad guys you kill in one go the bigger the diamonds become and hence the bigger the points gained and the more diamonds you collect the larger your score multiplier becomes. There are also weapons power-ups to collect as well as smart bombs which are dropped by certain enemies. There is also something Warashi has incorporated called the Variable Boss Attack System (V.B.A.S.). Now this is a fancy system that just means the more items you have when you reach a boss leads to more crazy bullet patterns being thrown in your face and hence a much tougher battle. For the more hardcore who want to maximize their scores, more details on this system can be found on Warashi's website.
There are 5 levels and two playable characters: Exelica and Crueltear but unfortunately each characters levels are identical. The only difference between the 2 characters is their bullet patterns when they shoot. Exelica has a much wider range, while Crueltear has a very linear bullet pattern which means that while controlling her you have much more specificity over who you shoot and who you capture but she lacks Exelica's ability to clear the screen in a tight spot without using a smart bomb. The game is designed so that it's easier to shoot down enemies but by doing so you limit your maximum score. As a result Exelica is more suited to beginners and Crueltear is more suited for score hungry advanced players since you can't rack up nearly as many score multipliers by shooting enemies, which of course puts more emphasis on the capture system.
So that's pretty much the game but is it any good?
Well yes and no. The capture system is great when you get used to it and it does bring something unique to the table. It adds an extra layer of strategy to the game as you have to consider when to shoot enemies down, how long to keep spinning your captured enemy, where and when to throw them and when to capture without getting hit. Things can get really intense when you're trying to capture a big aircraft while dodging enemy bullets and then spinning the aircraft fast enough to block the incoming barrage you know you can't dodge and then gaining enough momentum to launch it before the new wave of bullets come, and if you miss.....then you're in trouble.
Despite how fun the capture system is though the game focuses too much on it and as a result you have a shmup which has pretty little shooting in it. The game almost forces you to spam the capture system which leads to a game that almost becomes a pattern where you have to carefully plan all your movements in a methodical fashion. Shmups are supposed to be a genre that pushes your reflexes and improvisation skills to the limit and in this respect Trigger Heart Exelica falters somewhat due to the slower pace caused by the overuse of the capture system. You could argue that all shmups become a mesh of planned methodical movements in the end (you need only youtube clips of Ikaruga pros to back that point up) but in Trigger Heart Exelica there are a few too many occasions where you have to capture specific enemies and throw them into specific places one after the other and if you miss then you are buggered for a section of the level and even though shooting is designed to make the game easier, in these situations it does fuck all.
Graphically the game is not particularly eye catching. Now you maybe thinking well it's a shmup so no shit! But all the enemies you encounter look pretty much the same and they look very uninspiring. The bosses are plane dull to look at and there are very few if any at all moments in the game that make you go "wow!" Shmups are renowned for having fantastically breathtaking holy shit bosses but Trigger Heart Exelica has none. The game simply lacks personality on a graphical level. Although the music in the game is awesome! However, the sound effects are not.
Trigger Heart Exelica is a good shmup although it has it's faults. It provides an experience unlike any other and looks damn cool once you get going. If you're a fan of shmups then this is something different that you should definitely check out but if you're not then this game is probably not going to turn you into a hardcore shmup fanatic but it is still worth a look.