The shoot-'em-up genre will never perish, and neither will the Dreamcast. No matter how niche it can get at times, shooters old and new come out of the woodwork in the most unexpected of places, from Steam to legacy consoles.
One such release is Neo XYX, a new (yes, in 2014) game for the Sega's last console, making this the second Dreamcast release this year. It's also the best.
Neo XYX (Dreamcast)
Released: February 17, 2014
Neo XYX may be a new game, but it brings things back down to the basics in a very old-school way. All you have at your disposal is a regular shot (that can be slightly modified for more power), screen-clearing bombs, and a button to hold to slow your movement -- that's literally it. There's no "slow-mo" power, no ability to switch to different types of crafts, it's just shoot-'em-ups, distilled. The only thing you really can do that's out of the ordinary is use bombs defensively to clear out bullets and avoid deaths. If you've played something like DoDonPachi before, you'll feel right at home.
But that doesn't mean XYX isn't a complex game. For starters, there's a score-attack element to it that centers around collecting medals for points in a "chain," as well as forcing you to grab bomb pieces to make more. If you want what little resources this shooter has to offer, you'll have to work for it. When I say it's "old school," I mean it, because if you lose all your continues you'll start all the way back at the beginning -- not the beginning of the stage -- the start of the whole shebang.
While I wouldn't necessarily call Neo XYX a "bullet hell shooter," it clearly has elements of the sub-genre, as every level has at least one or two enemy types (including bosses) peppered in. The AI is very aggressive, and the wide variety of foes make things incredibly interesting when they track you down across the screen and use multiple abilities to take you out. For instance, some screens have your typical ships that are straight shooters while others quickly dash in and set of delayed bombs that scatter droves of shots all over the screen.
It's very Cave-like in the sense that you'll have to adapt to multiple ways of thinking if you want to get through levels without losing tons of lives. All of this comes to a head with the bosses, which are both formidable and fun to fight. These big bads are massive in size, and all have something unique up their sleeves. Breaking off pieces of them as the fight goes on also adds to the tension, giving the confrontations a bit more weight.
Although Neo XYX is technically a vertical shooter, it does offer up optional modes of play, including multiple horizontal and vertical orientations. In fact, one vertical option even goes so far as to shift the screen sideways, so you can tilt your computer monitor to play up and down. Even as someone who prefers vertical danmaku I was impressed, and I heartily enjoyed embarking upon multiple playthroughs with each mode. The only hangup is the fact that there's only one standard difficulty, but thankfully it's balanced enough to the point where everyone should be satisfied.
I've always maintained that the best shmups are hand-drawn, and Neo XYX is no exception. The art is simply beautiful, as well as vibrant. It's easy to see where you are at all times, and it's equally as simple to distinguish enemy fire from your own. It also has a great heart-pumping soundtrack that's reminiscent of the PlayStation era, specifically the futuristic tunes of the Mega Man X series from X4 onward. It complements the game perfectly, as brief as it may be -- composer Rafael Dyll has another winner on his hands.
If you aren't already a fan of the genre, the pricey entry fee for Neo XYX probably isn't worth the trouble. But for everyone else, you'll have a blast with this challenging and well designed shooter with a surprising amount of options in tow for veterans. Like the Cave shooters of old, even if it doesn't truly innovate in any meaningful way, this is one game I'll be replaying for years to come.
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