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Review #355

XG Blast!
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Developer: Next Wave Team
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/14/2010

UFO Interactive has become one of the go-to publisher of choice for shoot ‘em up fans. They’ve brought us titles like Radirgy, Raiden IV, Chaos Field, and I>Karous all made it to the US thanks to these guys. God knows I loved my Ultimate Shooting Collection. Of course, they also recently cancelled the much anticipated (at least by us here at DHGF) Arcade Shooter: Invelio. This latest shoot ‘em up is the second offering by developer Next Wave Team. To be honest I had never head of their first title, Double Sequence: The Q-Virus Invasion, but after reading reviews of it, I am probably better off for not having experienced it.

Does XG Blast! fare any better or has Next Wave Team gone 0 for 2?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

The overall plot of the game is about a ship traveling through the deep recesses of space, only to find itself sucked into a wormhole and it must now fight its way back home by traveling through various zones. Each zone is comprised of different “arenas” complete with branching paths. For each arena you beat, you unlock that location in survival mode, and for each Zone you beat, you unlock that so you don’t have to start all the way from the beginning in discovery mode.

Survival Mode is just playing a single arena until you die in an attempt to rack up a high score. The higher the score, the more “medals” you get. Medals don’t appear to do anything so it’s just for personal bragging rights. Finally, there are two forms of multiplayer, but both are only accessible over a local connect and all participants need their own copy of XG Blast, making it inaccessible to nearly all gamers. The first variant is a two player version of survival mode called Double Dream and the other is a four player deathmatch called Full War.

On the surface it doesn’t look like there is a lot here, but there are a LOT of arenas and with branching paths, you’ll have to repeat zones more than once to unlock every location in survival mode. It’s pretty substantial for a budget game, even if it little more than different maps with the same goal.

Story/Modes Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics

There’s not a lot that can be said about the graphics. You have a limited selection of enemies, most of which are just slight variants of previous versions. It might have long protrusions or spin faster than the model before it and that’s it. There isn’t a lot of detail to the enemies or your ship, but that’s also because you can have up to 100 enemies on the screen at once without any slowdown. In a high stakes shoot ‘em up like this, I’d rather have the lack of slowdown than Final Fantast quality graphics.

The game’s bosses are huge compared to everything else in the game and they end up taking up a huge chunk of the map you are on. They also look pretty impressive compared to the rest of the game, but the visuals still feel more akin to something you’d see on the GBA rather than the DS.

For a budget shooter, this isn’t too bad looking. It doesn’t push the DS’s limits by any means, but what’s here is good enough for both the price and gameplay style.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

The music of the game has a nice trance-like feel to it. There aren’t a lot of tracks on the cart, but gamers will find each once to fit the fast-paced and frantic nature of the game quite nicely. I can’t really say the same for the sound effects as everything sounds alike, whether it is a spread shot or reflective bullets. Enemy shots all sound the same as does their death explosion. Whether it’s a boss or a horde of cannon fodder, it all sounds alike.

So a fun musical score but the bare minimum for sound effects. As generic and sparse as the latter are, at least it’s not like something out of Combat for the Atari 2600.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

As odd as it may sound, I think this game is a bit out of place on the Nintendo DS and would be better served on a system with two analog sticks, say the PS2. This is because your D pad controls your ships movement, but the four buttons controls you weapon’s aim. As the game is meant to be an eight directional shooter, you would have more precise aiming with a dual stick control system, and it would make the gamer a little easier to play as well. You can switch the controls so that the buttons control the ship and the D-pad controls the aiming of your weapon, but in either case you are losing the full 360 degree ability of one, and you’ll really feel this in later levels or against bosses. The game works okay on the DS, and gamers won’t find themselves too frustrated with the controls, but anyone who picks this up will realize after just a few battles how much better this game would be with dual analog sticks.

That’s pretty much the game. You just avoid enemies from crashing into you while shooting them dead. If you get hit, your life bar goes does and you have a separate bar for your self-titled XG Blast shield/weapon. The game is basically a souped up version of Asteroids but with more levels, weapon options, and better graphics. Yes, you’re paying 19.99 for what amounts to Super Asteroids, (or for you whippersnappers, Geometry Wars) but before you knock remember that thirty year old game still holds up today.

There are six different weapons you can collect, each with four different power levels. The guide says that if you switch between weapons, you won’t lose your power level, but I can honestly say it has reset each time I have, which makes collecting weapons dangerous the further along you go into the game. Pity.

The game is pretty fun to play and it’s easy to pick up the controls. It’s just unfortunate that a game that was obviously meant for dual analog stick play ala its inspiration can get the full 360 support on the DS. Hitting two buttons at once instead of actually using a control is noticeable slower and will be what spells the difference between life and death for a lot of gamers here. Let’s hope this ends up going to the PSN or Xbox Live as it would certainly do better there.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6.5/10

5. Replayability

If you’re a big fan of wave shooters, then you’ll find a lot of replay here. You’ll have to go back through each zone multiple times to clear all the possible arenas contained therein, and then you’ll still be able to play the survival version of each arena. Multi-pkayer really isn’t worth mentioning simply due to the unlikelihood you will have any friends near you in close proximity with this cart, but if on the off chance this occurs, you’ll find Double Dream to be enjoyable but Full War to be painfully dull.

With a lot of map and branching paths, XG Blast has a lot of replay value, especially when you consider its budget pricing. However, as the only thing that really changes per map is the map itself and occasionally a boss fight, things do end up blurring together quickly.

Replayability: 5/10

6. Balance

Considering there are so many enemies on screen at once and there is an awful lot of respawning, you might be surprised to hear that I found the game to be extraordinarily easy. Generally you can get up to a spawning point and just shoot away before the enemies have fully materialized. Now there can be several spawning points on the map happening at once, but this still cuts down on a lot of enemies. As well, there is always one or two points on the map where you can tuck your ship in and just fire away without worrying about enemies colliding with you. These two things combine to make XG Blast far easier than it should be, even with the controls. The game also gives you a lot of energy power-ups meaning you’ll never be in danger of dying on any of the regular levels.

Bosses on the other hand can be a challenge and a half if only because they do an extreme amount of damage and you can never really tell if you are hurting them or not until they finally die. The difference in difficulty between boss levels and regular ones is tremendous and it you’ll more than likely die against the boss after not dying once in all of the other arenas in that particular zone because you just won’t be ready for that spike in the challenge. The game really could have used some tweaking here with making normal levels a bit harder and boss levels a bit easier to keep things flowing regularly. It’s just too discombobulated as it is.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

XG Blast! is just a souped up version of Asteroids which will be plain to anyone that turns this on after a few seconds. This game ass boss fights and a few new tricks, but otherwise this is Atari’s classic with a face lift and some new visuals. That being said, it’s been a long time since someone has made an Asteroids style shooter, so that does help this game to feel fresh, especially if you are a younger or more casual gamer. Still, if you take away the power-ups and modern graphics, it’s pretty much the same game. A nice twist on an old classic, but there’s not enough here to truly let this game stand on its own.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Although there are a lot of maps, I found the game to be far too repetitious for my taste. Waves of enemies usually spawn in the same fashion. You could do the same two tricks to stay alive and keep your power up, and there was never any challenge unless I was facing a boss. Even with the plethora of maps, they all rather felt the same. Challenge Mode drove me nuts as I could be ten minutes into a level and still be at full health and have a full XG meter. I don’t want to say that the game was dull, but it WAS monotonous. Next Wave had an opportunity to be really creative with level designs and yet the all blur together for the most part. XG Blast wasn’t boring per say, but it certainly didn’t hold my attention for very long. When a game is both easy and repetitive, that’s a bad sign.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Shooters have become a niche genre in North America, with static shooters being both the least popular and the least played. Bullet Hell is my personal favorite sub-genre while I know most people just want a side or vertical scroller. Due to the fact XG Blast is just an enhanced (and very long) version of Asteroids, I can’t see this being picked up by anyone save diehard shoot ‘em up fans or older gamers who loved gaming in the late 70s and 80s. For a budget title, it’s not bad, but with slight control issues, repetitive maps, and a wonky difficulty, XG Blast! simply isn’t accessible to gamers outside the small shoot ‘em up audience that still exists and even them, a good chunk of them won’t enjoy it for the aforementioned reasons.

Appeal Factor: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

At $19.99, XG Blast is a fun title, but it’s a clone of two older, more popular, and dare I say better titles. There isn’t a lot of variety here, nor is there any real meat, but at least there are a lot of maps and Next Wave did try to include a multi-player element which was a nice though. I can’t really recommend this on the basis that it’s a “been there, done that” game, but if you liked either of the previously mentioned titles, XG Blast! is probably worth the twenty bucks.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story/Modes: 5.5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score: 52

Short Attention Span Summary
XG Blast! is a lesser version of both Asteroids and Geometry Wars, and although fans of the two will enjoy their time with this game, they will also feel it a bit lacking. Although the $19.99 price tag is nice, the game does have some minor control issues as it feels like it should be played with two analog sticks rather than a D-pad and buttons. The soundtrack is quite nice, but the rest of the auditory aspects are lacking. Finally the game’s difficulty is all over the place and there is little variety to any of the maps in the game, leaving the overall experience to be one of monotony.

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