Vostok Inc. - Steam Screenshot

Genre: SHMUP / Incremental Game
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes, if you have a gamepad

About The Game

Vostok Inc. is a peculiar mix between an incremental game (think realm grinder) and shoot-em-up. In this game, you fly your ship and try to establish an intergalactic corporation. You go from planet to planet, build buildings and fight enemies while in space.

The freshness of the idea contributes to an engaging gameplay: you can spend your money on making your ship stronger or build your colonies. You get money by killing enemies, but the planetary bases give much more resources, and you can’t both at the beginning. This creates an interesting balancing/optimization choices for the player. Go for the first, and have a strong ship, but not enough passive income. Go for the second, and be richer, but have harder time surviving enemy encounters.

Battles

Speaking of enemy encounters: they are pretty straightforward. If you go through the space, you meet various enemies (depending on the galaxy you are in). They will chase you and shoot at you, and if you die: you must get to your base in an escape pod or you end up losing money / middle managers that improve your production output by a percentage. The battle controls are similar to other twin-stick shooter games: one stick to move, another to shoot. The player can have up to four weapons that can be switched between each other. The weapon system is different from the other games of shoot-em-up genre: your ships has three weapon slots. There are three possible weapons: beam, bullet, rocket. By combining those weapons, you get a new weapon type.

The shooting actually feels great: the bullet collisions are clearly visible and understandable, the enemies explode in a spectacular way and your bullets make nice sounds. On the down side, most weapons feel redundant or unnecessary: I’ve progressed in the game by mostly using bullet weapons. Other ones just did not feel powerful or did not help to solve any specific problems with the enemies: you don’t need homing rockets if you can turn around at any point and shoot shotgun/minigun at upcoming enemies with much faster rate and damage per second. The most basic beam weapon also felt like the best one to fight the slowest bosses: one projectile hits the large bosses’ bounding box multiple times, accumulating your combo meter VERY quickly and allowing you to do huge damage, ensuring quick boss kills. Actually, it feels like a problem with most large projectiles / large enemies: your hits get counted multiple times, and so it’s really easy to get max combo on slower bosses or enemies, dealing tremendous amounts of damage.

Business

The incremental part is well balanced and allows for the smooth progression: you won’t be a billionaire straight away, instead you’ll have to gradually work for it, meticulously building your bases and purchasing upgrades. This base building part provides a good relaxation from the space fighting. There are also minigames like racing and collecting managers in space. Managers enhance your production percentage and offer some more minigames that imitate retro-gaming systems. Overall, this salad of features is what keeps Vostok Incorporated interesting.

Cons

However, when you get 20+ planets, a problem appears which I love to call “Fallout 4” problem. If you remember Fallout 4 base building, you got your homebase first, then you could go and help bases all through the commonwealth and get more villages under your protection. However, once you got too many of them, it quickly started to become a chore going from one place to another, fixing and improving things. The same thing can be observed here: going between 4+ system and visiting multiple planets becomes a chore. It would help to have an ability to build bases on planets remotly, but alas, there’s no such thing.

Speaking about the cons, I must mention that the settings are very weak: no mouse support in the menus. No resolution / display selection. The game was clearly designed with consoles in mind. The gamepad controls are very convenient, but even keyboard key rebindings can’t save the UI from the lack of mouse support and awkward menu switching.

Summary

While it’s not perfect – it is an engaging attempt to make a fusion of two game genres that succeeded. Vostok Inc. brings the new mechanics to the table, combining it with nice aesthetics and polish. Get it if you have a gamepad.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Drifting Lands - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Shoot’Em’Up / Action / RPG
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: If you enjoy Shoot’em’ups and don’t mind the grind

About The Game

 

Drifting Lands is an interesting take on a SHMUP genre that involves adding random item generation and levelling, think of a mix between Diablo and Raptor: Call of the Shadows.

The game starts by revealing that the world as you know it has been destroyed due to some disaster. The pieces of earth float together, so most of the life happens to take place on those shards. (Hence the name, Drifting Lands).

The process is pretty straightforward: you have to fly through the levels, destroy enemies, pick randomly generated loot most of the time. There are some alternatives like smuggling, you need to drop some cargo on a specific area of the level, which brings some variety to a traditional gameplay.

After the level ends – you can upgrade your ship, sell the items you won’t be using or purchase a new ones.

The Good

 

Shoot-Em-Ups are very reliant on the core gameplay loop: destroying enemies and dodging bullets, and I’m happy to say that Drifting Lands delivers on that. A good addition to the gameplay are usable player skills: you can select and take 4 out of 30+ skills into battle. Skills like flame burst that damages everything before you, special shield that absorbs bullets for 2 seconds, all sorts of dashes, various weapon boosts, mines, passive abilities that affect the loot and money earned. Needless to say, this introduces a great variety and makes player adapt to the style. The loot system also helps with that: there are lots of stats and weapons / items can contribute greatly to boosting the ones you want.

I remember that I thought that it’s impossible to make a beautiful 3d SHMUP, and I’m glad that I was wrong. Drifting Land introduces amazing graphics and colorful effects, the game feels very alive because of that. Shining bullets, colorful explosions, great player ship animations – all this adds to the immersion of the game.

The Bad

Having said that, the game has negative sides. First, it’s the backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, they are drawn very well, but they still remain somewhat unremarkable and unnoticed. One thing that is often seen in good shoot-em-ups is a varying landscape on every level. After you play the level a few times, you remember how it was, what obstacles and enemies can be encountered. Background plays a big role in that: if the level has enemies after mountains, those mountains help you understand and improve on next playthrough, because you know where to anticipate such enemies. No such thing here: I understand that the game relies on random generation a lot, but most of the levels I’ve played were simply floating rocks in the background. Sometimes there were tornadoes. The colors and gamma change occasionally, but there are rarely any remarkable landmarks that can be seen. Because of that, there is the repetitive feeling, like when you are moving in the same place.

Second, the levels often offer randomly-generated enemy sequence, but there are too many levels and too few enemies. In the end, it starts to feel like a grind. I’ve played the game for about 5 hours and I still enjoy it, but I think this is one of the few times when I wanted a good game to be a bit shorter and more focused on its objective / plot instead of asking to do similar missions with similar enemies multiple times.

Summary

Overall, while having a few noticeable flaws, Drifting Lands does a lot of things right. The gameplay is action packed and challenging. The management layer that comes from items, ship upgrades and abilities makes the gameplay much more engaging. If you enjoy shoot-em-ups and are not afraid of replaying similar levels multiple times – I can recommend the game to you.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Rush Rover - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Action / Bullet Hell
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Absolutely Yes

Disclaimer: game is still in early access, some things are ought to change.

Rush Rover is a top-down 2d action/roguelite game. In the game, you control a robot that fights the other, “converted” AI bots. Each playthrough consists of multiple randomly generated rooms, and you must defeat 5 bosses to win the game. As you kill enemies, you level up and get to upgrade various abilities.

The Good

  • Content: enemies are very different, their movement paths and attacks require different type of maneuvering and dodging from you. Some rush towards you and you have to dodge, others shoot in circular patterns so you have to keep moving in-between bullets. In any case: standing in one place means certain death. The guns are also really interesting: some charge up before firing, the homing missiles lock on targets before flying towards them, the “wave” gun tries to fry the enemies in a cone pattern.
  • Skill-Based Gameplay: the drops are random, but damage is not. You have to dodge lots of bullets and fire accurately, otherwise you get obliterated. If you die – it totally feels like your fault, which is a great game design.
  • The game handles roguelite randomness really well: your initial weapon does not suck. It’s not terribly powerful, but you can upgrade it as you level up, so even if you don’t find a new one, you can still complete the game. In fact, I’ve completed my first run without actually changing the weapon.

The Bad

  • One playthrough is extremely short: it took me about 40 minutes to finish one game. It’s not easy so you won’t be able to do it on the first playthrough (probably), but it took me a bit more than 2 hours to finish the game for the first time.
  • The graphics are not that great: the animations are well-detailed, but the backgrounds do get repetitive after some time. The UI is also a bit clumsy, i.e. you can’t pause the game by pressing ESC, you have to open inventory and click “menu” there before the actual game menu opens.

Summary

Rush Rover seriously made me think about what makes the top-down shooter games good. Frankly, I have not felt this excited about top-down games since Enter The Gungeon. However, the game does some things much better than the former: namely, the room balancing. First, you can teleport from every room after you kill all enemies. Second, the room is always equally full of enemies. They won’t rush towards you. You need to start approach them, and then they attack you. This contributes to a feeling that every room is literally filled with enemies, but still leaves you space to maneuver.

At the time of this review, the game costs 5.99 EUR (or your regional equivalent) and I definitely recommended it, as it’s a great price for the entertainment that you are getting.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Gridd - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Action / SHMUP
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Wait for 50% discount

GRIDD is a neon-cyberpunk game, where you control your craft and try to “hack the system,” while avoiding and destroying enemies. Behind simple concept there’s a good execution with well-detailed and thought out neon 80’s-like style. Think of Tron, a 1982 movie. The style of the game world vaguely reminds of a famous lightbike scene that the movie portrayed to us.

The Good

  • Simple, but action packed gameplay. You can move in 4 directions (up/down/left/right) and shoot. There are different obstacles and enemies that makes it interesting and engaging.
  • Difficult, skill-based gameplay with two modes: the arcade mode offers one same gameplay sequence again and again so you have a chance to study / adapt to it. Endless mode offers randomly-generated levels, so you’ll have to rapidly react to what’s happening on the screen since you can’t actually prepare for it.
  • Neon-Cyberpunk Style: glowing neon futuristic levels, with amazing particle effects, stylized enemy models and well-thought out obstacles. This gives a great vibe of “system hacking” like you would imagine it in 1980’s movies.
  • Music is repetitive, but not annoying: the music loop fits the game fine.

The Bad

  • There’s not much in the game content-wise. Sure, different enemies and obstacles are there, but your ship remains the same and there are only 3 bonuses: health / shield / weapon upgrades. It gets repetitive after a while: Arcade mode throws the same level at you again and again. Endless mode adds variety, but somewhat diminishes the skills: since obstacles and enemies are random, you can’t learn the positioning and predict them in a timely manner.
  • Dying sequence deserves an extra mention: after you die, you are shown the final screen with score (acceptable). Then, after you have to press the button to close the screen, you get thrown to the main screen of the game (press start to continue), where you have to navigate to the game mode you want and pick it (more button presses). For a skill-based game that requires lots of retry attempts – that quickly gets annoying. Simple restart/retry button would make it so much better.

Summary

The game offers an engaging gameplay with exceptional style, but does get repetitive after a while since there’s not that much content present. I say grab it during 50% discount.

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Rocking Pilot - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Bullet Hell / SHMUP
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes, if you have a good twin-stick gamepad

About the Game

Rocking Pilot is a bullet hell game where you fight the enemy waves on your helicopter. It is inspired by the classic arcade games, but tries to introduce new features to the genre. Without spoiling the ending, the setting of the game itself takes place in “reality show” that shows wars and armed conflicts across the world. During every mission, your helicopter stays on screen and tries to perform the task given.

The Good:

  • Each game zone brings its own interaction: hostages to be rescued, gas that blocks enemy and your bullets, mutant growth that can be killed only by rotors, etc. It feels like developers really spent a lot of time developing the enemies.
  • The graphics are bright and very polished: player’s action receive a good visual feedback. Picking up hostages, dealing damage and picking power-ups – all of this is clear and pretty.
  • Challenging and difficult. You can turn invulnerability/bullet deflection for some time, but not for long. It’s up to you when to turn this one, which direction to face, where to go and what enemies to shoot. Overall, the gameplay feels very skill-based.
  • The game by itself is not that long (probably the base storyline can be completed within 2 hours), but there’s a lot more stuff to do if you want to perfect it. There are also bonus levels with much higher difficulties. As it often is with shmup games, each stage offers extra milestones that can be completed for additional rewards / pickable bonus unlocks.

The Bad:

  • Collisions: bounding boxes are utterly confusing. You often have to kill the enemies using your helicopters rotors, that means you have to approach them, and it is not always clear how far you can go into the enemies without exploding. To sum it up, the death from collisions in this particular game felt like it was hurting the gameplay instead of helping it.
  • The mouse controls are awkward at the very least. When playing using controller, the helicopter turns towards the direction of the second stick. When playing with mouse, however, your helicopter seems to be turning right/left depending on where you move your mouse, and since there’s no cursor being shown – it’s just hard to navigate using the mouse. It just gives an impression that there was no effort to make the game use devices that PC can offer. This type of game on PC often uses cursor for targeting and easier rotation, but not in this case, and that makes mouse controls so much worse without a particular reason.
  • The UI is obviously meant for consoles: you can’t navigate the menus with the mouse, you have to pick language every time you launch the game. The game keeps launching on your display #1 no matter which one you set as a main one. No way to tune that in the settings. My monitors have different resolution and so I could not set it to run on the one I wanted to. You can turn on the windowed mode, but you don’t seem to be able to resize the window.

Summary

Overall, it’s a really decent bullet-hell game when it comes to the gameplay itself, but poor mouse controls make it an unsuitable pick for those of you who prefer gaming with keyboard and mouse. If you have a twin-stick controller and enjoy bullet hell games though – the game will be a good addition to your library.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Spaceship Looter - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Action / Roguelite / Bullet Hell
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes

Disclaimer: the game is in early access, some things will probably change

Spaceship Looter is an action-roguelite. The premise is simple: your character visits abandoned spaceships to pick the abandoned goods there. The game is a mix between “Enter the Gungeon” and “Nuclear Throne”: lots of shooting, using the environment to dodge / kill monsters, some unlocks and money for upgrade purchases.

Pros

  • Great style, the game’s colorful pixel-art is pleasant to look at
  • Dynamic gameplay: small movement space and interactions with environmental destructibles make sure that you keep moving all the time
  • Challenging Difficulty: the game is not easy; good for hardcore players, but probably better avoided by casual players
  • Responsive movement / shooting controls

Cons

  • Performance is linked directly to your screen refresh rate: on my G-Sync 120hz monitor the game ran at double speed, making it essentially unplayable
  • The interactive obstacles sometimes fail to respond in time when you press E button (you just really need to be close to them, but it’s easy to miss this interval)
  • As with lots of these games, you can get screwed by random: some rooms get too much enemies and not enough obstacles or are too small; that makes it impossible to leave them undamaged

Summary

The game solves the problem that Enter The Gungeon had: Spaceship Looter has small rooms and that ensures that you get more action-packed fights and less movement. Right now, the game focuses on core game loop: the plot is close to nonexistent, just run, gun and use your surroundings wisely. There’s really not much else behind the gameplay process, but it’s well polished and addictive. If you don’t mind the lack of plot and consider yourself a seasoned gamer looking for an extra challenge – go for it, you won’t be disappointed

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Feature Image taken from the Spaceship Looter store page, here

Lil Tanks - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Game Screenshot

Genre: Shoot-em-up / Action
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes, but wait for 50% discount

Disclaimer: I got the key for free

Lil Tanks is a retro-styled shoot-em-up. You control a tank and his smaller assistant and try to singlehandedly repel an alien invasion. One of the innovative things about the game is the small assistant that also shoots and follows you. Its movement is comparable to movement in a snake game: the head moves, the tail follows in its track.

Pros:

  • Nicely drawn enemies / backgrounds, the game has its own visual style
  • Intense gameplay, a lot of things are going on at the same time
  • Difficult, challenging
  • Good music / solid sounds
  • Four different tanks that can be levelled up, eventually increasing in power. Each has special ability that can be used to your advantage
  • Different enemies with different movement patterns

Cons:

  • Only 3 different bonus weapons, not much variety bonus-wise
  • Level 6 deserves an extra mention: drive for >1 minute almost without enemies
  • Enemies do not spawn randomly, but bonuses do: especially on level 5, your fate is decided by random: if you get flamethrower bonus in the beginning on the round, you’ll probably do much better than if you get it at the end

Summary

I’ve played for ~4 hours and got to level 6 (I did not complete it, but as I understand, this is the last one). I’ve beat 4 levels on hardcore mode before that, but the 5th was just too overwhelming and it felt more frustrating than rewarding. I still say the game is good, but with 6 levels I honestly did not feel like it has enough content to justify $9.99 price. I’d suggest waiting for 50% discount.

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Feature Image taken from the Lil Tanks store page, here

Furious Angels - Indie Game Reviews 2017

Genre: Shoot’Em’Up
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes, but wait for 50% discount

Disclaimer #1: I got the key for free

Furious Angels is a sci-fi arcade shooter focused on score attack mechanics. You try to kill enemy aircraft as it attacks you and your carrier. The concept might be simple enough, but the it’s the execution that gets the prize.

Even if you are not a competitive person – you’ll feel that way because game shows leaderboard and your position in it before every launch. That’s a great design that tries to push “competitive” philosophy to every player. “Go ahead, look how far you can go if you try to survive just a little bit longer!”

Pros:

  • Great graphics, the game has its own style: not high-poly, but not minimalistic either. The landscape does not have a lot of detail, but the enemies and your own ships do.
  • Good, minimalistic UI
  • Challenging, skill based gameplay, the more you play – the better you get
  • Fun, action-packed gameplay. I mean it.

Cons:

  • After a while, the game will get repetitive: you always get the same plane and same equipment at the start
  • The controls could be better: the game requires good precision, but it’s really hard to have precise angles on controller. The mouse is OK (I had 35% accuracy with mouse compared to usual 17-18% with controller). Forget about playing with keyboard. Maybe I’m unskilled, but turning the plane on keyboard has really been painful.
  • Music does not fit the game. It’s not bad, it’s just somewhat relaxing and does not put you in “go get em, instant action!” mood.
  • The price is a bit steep for the content offered: if you think about it, the game has less than 10 types of enemies and 3 player upgrades in total.

Summary

I am a bit hesitant to recommend the game at the current point (01.03.2017): on one hand, I liked the game; the graphics and style are well polished and it’s really engaging. On the other hand: there’s not much content (<10 enemies I think and only 2 player upgrades).

I think definitely buy it once it’s on 50% discount, but for the current price it seems a bit too expensive to me.

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Feature Image taken from the Furious Angels store page, here

Dimension Drive Indie Game Reviews 2017 Screenshot Steam

EDIT: Developer’s Reply Below

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: with the current feature set, wait for 50%+ discount; otherwise wait for early access to end and see what’s introduced.

Disclaimer #1: I got the key for free
Disclaimer #2: The game is in early access, some things are ought to change

Dimension drive is a shoot-em-up that introduces a double battlefield mechanic. Your screen is split into two parts, “Dimensions” and the fighter under your control can swap between them (avoiding damage and replenishing energy). You fly through the level, collect the data pickups and bonuses, and if things get rough on one part of the screen, or you need to reload your weapon, you switch to another part.

Pros:

  • Innovative game mechanics
  • Well-polished graphics
  • Due to double-screen mechanics, level design is pretty creative
  • Challenging and difficult
  • Nice music and sounds

Cons:

  • The first bosses on the both sides of the screen. Have separate health pool. In theory – it’s a good idea, but in practice it makes fight extremely easy if you kill the boss on one side of the screen (you can just shift to the other side to dodge projectiles at any time without danger whatsoever).
  • Not much weapon variety, the first world only has one different weapon (the developers promise more later)
  • Co-Op: You have the same health pool between both players (but it seems that enemy hp is doubled). The damage one player takes automatically affects both of the players. No separate health pools. This makes the game tricky to play with your guests. If they are not as good as you are – you are simply going to go down with them.
  • Ramming into obstacle instantly kills you even on normal difficulty. I personally found the game too difficult to play because of that.

 

Summary

My main frustration with the game were the obstacles: if you switch from screen 1 to screen 2 (into the obstacle) – you are instantly destroyed, even if you have full shields. I don’t mind the extra difficulty, but I think this is not a good user experience: you focus on one part of the screen, then jump to other to dodge the bullets. But wait, there’s an obstacle there. You die. Instantly. I think the best course of action would be disallowing the player to switch if there’s an obstacle on the other side of the screen: more often than not it will result in player taking damage (which is fair since he could not dodge well) instead of being instantly-destroyed (which seems unfair because well, try focusing on two points on screen simultaneously: changing you eye focus takes some time). At the same time, if you switch your focus on to the next screen, there’s a great probability that you’re going to ram into the obstacle on the first one.

At this point, if I am honest with you, I cannot recommend the game to my friends due to how screen switching mechanics work and not much weapons. Having said that, I think effective focus switch is a skill that can be trained, so if you don’t mind that – definitely give the game a try. The game is definitely not bad and I’d say this is a niche game for you shoot-em-up lovers, but if you are more on a casual side of things (like I am) – I’d skip this one for now or see how early access will end. The developers are definitely trying their best and if they deliver their promises – I’ll be more than glad to take another look at the game. At the current point though, I find the game too expensive for what it offers.

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Feature Image taken from the Dimension Drive store page, here

Developer’s Reply

Hi Vladimir,

Thanks for the feedback. We fully agree with your points regarding lack of weapons and the issue with the lasers (which is a bug that we have identified on our issue tracker). And yes, the game needs more levels and more work as you have fairly said it is Early Access and we intend to add more.

However, I have to say that there are some things that are like that by design choice. Dimension Drive is a hardcore challenging game in the vein of the classics like Gradius, R-Type, or more recently Ikaruga where obstacles instakill you. Obviously that’s going to be an issue for casual players who don’t want this challenge and for those players I fully agree with your statement that the game is maybe not for them. Also, the extra challenge of playing and focusing on two sides is part of the design, again I’m sorry it wasn’t for you but removing the danger of teleporting into obstacles would remove part of the challenge we wanted to make.

Finally, I want to say that we are planning to add an Easy mode as you can see in our public Early Access roadmap (https://trello.com/b/1OpgMDJ3/dimension-drive-early-access-development-roadmap). In that mode we plan to have a visual warning when you are in a situation that if you teleport you die but you would still be able to do it if you are careless teleporting. That may help more casual players but in any case the game will still continue to be a hard and challenging game.

Thanks a lot for take the time to play Dimension Drive.

David

== End of Developer’s Reply ==
Hope it gives somewhat a full picture 🙂 Overall, I totally agree with the letter; Not for the casual players, but if you are a hardcore shumup fan – this game might be for you.

Xenoraid Steam Game Screenshot

Genre: Action/Shoot-em-up/Bullet Hell
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes

Disclaimer: I got the key for free.

Xenoraid is a shoot-em-up/bullet hell, where you control earth defence fleet against alien invaders. Instead of controlling 1 vessel, player owns up to 4 ships which he can swap during the game (also used as a way to dodge enemies/projectiles).

Pros

  • Great weapon „juiciness”: even most basic weapons feel great to fire
  • Fun to play
  • Good variety of weapons/Fighters
  • Neat graphics / effects
  • Challenging: can’t simply go forward and blindly shoot at everything, have to do lots of maneuvering and plane switching
  • Micromanagement elements: manage your individual aircraft upgrades as well as perks that apply to all aircraft

Cons

  • Lack of difficulty controls: developer said that some players report the game being too difficult and I agree to it.
  • Compared to the normal level difficulties, the boss fights were pretty easy. Don’t get me wrong, they are still engaging and interesting, but after what normal levels are throwing at you – you’ll feel somewhat underwhelmed.

Summary

I’d say give it a try when you can. The game is definitely well polished (well, what else can you expect from the creators of Crimsonland?) and the new mechanics introduced make the shoot-em-up genre feel fresh again.

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Feature Image taken from the Xenoraid store page, here