Xexyz
System: NES Publisher: Hudson Soft Developer: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action Type: Platform/Shooter Hybrid Circa: 1990
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At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever play a game from Hudson Soft that I'll truly like. I do not like the Adventure Island series, I'm not a big fan of Bomberman, and what I've seen of the Bonk series has failed to ignite my gaming passion. That is why I say, with much apprehension, that Xexyz may be one of the better Hudson Soft games I've yet played. It's said with much apprehension because it's not that good. Xexyz alternates between sidescrolling platform stages and shooter stages. The platform stages are very similar to Monster Party in that you explore a level full of doors that take you to different rooms. The shooter stages are in the style of Gradius, but are much more (painfully) reminiscent of the shooting stages in Air Fortress. You control Apollo, a space warrior who is trying to save the Islands of Xexyz from the tyrannical rule of the alien invader, Goruza. Xexyz also borrows elements from other games, such as Section-Z, and stitches them all together in a conglomeration whose best moments only serve to remind you of better games.
GRAPHICS: 7/10
Xexyz begins with a very impressive vector-line style title screen, but gives way to visuals that sometimes impress, but more often evoke boredom. In the shooting scenes that occur when traveling between stages, Apollo rides on a well-animated ship in the shape of an animal (such as a turtle, lobster, or bird), while flying against a fairly realistic backdrop of clouds and shimmering ocean. These are, perhaps, the most graphically competent parts of the game, but they take a backseat to the rather bland visuals that accompany other areas. Some of the platform stages resemble Monster Party's stages after someone had cleaned up all the blood. Others, such as the "Mechanic Castles", all look alike, with only palette swapping to differentiate them. (There's one exception: The final castle has a dragon pattern in the background rather than the usual nondescript scheme.)

The bosses are huge, colorful, and definitely look nice, but their designs are a bit weak (generic crabs, robots, and even a shark.) Unique enemies are abundant, but easily forgettable. There is even a small problem with flicker, which usually only happens during boss fights. I normally don't care too much about minor graphic glitching like that, but in the case of Xexyz, flicker sometimes causes bosses' projectiles to vanish, so I get hit by things I can't even see.


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SOUND: 3/10
I'm finding it difficult to even remember any of Xexyz's music right now, and I'm not one who forgets game music that easily. As you could probably tell from the huge midi collection on this site, I love game music and it tends to be one of my favorite things about many games. But Xexyz didn't have anything that was even worth describing. Most of it was repetitive and not very exciting. The "Mechanic Castle" music was especially annoying, repeating just a few notes over and over again. Sound effects are equally subpar, but less intrusive.
STORY/ATMOSPHERE: 4.5/10
One thing that Xexyz could possibly have had going for it is a quirky atmosphere, but even in that regard, it just doesn't push the envelope far enough. Much of the game's graphics and ideas are very much like Monster Party's, but Xexyz doesn't come anywhere close to matching that game's persona. Monster Party was not a very good game, but was full of such weird and goofy stuff that it was worth playing just to see how bizarre it would get. Xexyz's strangeness is limited to one gimmick of a giant (in comparison to Apollo) woman who appears in a hot tub after defeating a mini-boss. Yes, this has a certain "what the heck?" factor the first time you see it, but Hudson Soft was content to use it ad nasueam instead of giving us more to look forward to. Even River City Ransom, a game loved by many that I didn't care for so much, kept us guessing with shops that would sometimes show Alex swallowing a coffee cup whole or baring his naked hindquarters.

As for Xexyz's actual story, it's nothing special. I summed it up in one sentence in the introduction of this review, and that's really all there is to it. The game also has an inexcusably dumb ending.


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CONTROL: 4.5/10
I don't want to whine about story and atmosphere too much. Many games are just great on merits of their gameplay alone. But Xexyz's true crutch is its play control. Apollo has an extremely awkward highjump that involves holding Up and pressing the A button. The jumping just doesn't seem as responsive as it could be and making pinpoint landings is needlessly difficult. I can't count the number of times I was about ready to complete a level, but missed a simple jump due to the play control issues, and had to start all over again.

The shooter stages are also problematic. Your ship starts off very slow, leaving you a sitting duck until you collect not one, but TWO speed-ups! I'm not overly fond of the speed-up system in shooters, but making you collect two before you notice a difference is intolerable. Apollo combined with his current ship also makes for a rather huge target, meaning you'll take lots of sacrifice hits simply because you don't have anyplace to go.


CHALLENGE: 4/10
More often than not, I can see a direct paralell between how good a game's play control is and the game's overall quality. Bad play control can severly limit how much you can do with it, how far the player can be pushed, and how challenging the game can be. With control that cannot truly be mastered and that makes even the simplest jumps aggravating, it's not wrong to expect that the game may not have any worthwhile challenges. And such is the case with Xexyz. None of the stages were very hard, and it seemed like the difficulty didn't even increase with progression. All platform stages have the same exact mini-boss. The penalty for losing a life is having to do the entire stage all over again, but once you've made a mistake, you're not likely to do it again. (Unless, it's the damn play control that's pestering you.) You also gain new weapons and items in each stage that makes the going a little easier.

The shooter stages suffer from simplicity. You can't be expected to pull off impressive dodging and shooting maneuvers if you can barely dodge or shoot, so you're not given the opportunity. The bosses look intimidating, but most have a ridiculously simple pattern that was easily learned and avoided, very often on my first try.

Xexyz may also try to use the excuse for its passiveness that it's part adventure game, but even as an adventure challenge it doesn't succeed. Your "adventuring" is limited to shooting certain blocks in each level to uncover a hidden door, and collecting money from defeated enemies to buy stuff.


FUN: 4.5/10
There is little doubt in my mind that Monster Party is what influenced Xexyz's platform stages, while Section-Z influenced its shooter levels. In the platform stages, you explore the level while shooting enemies and entering doors that take you to weapon shops and mini-bosses. In some shooting stages, you're given a choice of paths at the end, a la Section-Z. But that game's multiple paths often lead to alternate routes or hidden power-ups. Take the wrong path in Xexyz, and you're merely forced to redo the stage. Level design has been all but neglected in both the shooter and platform stages.

Despite how negative this review has been, I'm hesitant to say that Xexyz is a truly "bad" game. It's not quite the disaster of Heroes of the Lance, Alpha Mission, or Ikari Warriors. It is more or less in the same boat as games like Kabuki Quantum Fighter and Air Fortress; The designers' hearts were in the right place, and it may be worth playing to gamers who just can't get enough of oldschool sidescrollers. But I can't honestly say that I found it to be much fun.


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So, just how is Xexyz one of the better Hudson Soft games I've played? At this point, I'm not even sure, anymore. I know this game has a small cult following on the internet, but it's difficult for me to recommend it. But if you find your tastes in games tend to lean more towards mine, consider this: I gave both Monster Party and Section-Z, the two games Xexyz tries the most to be like, a 6.5, and they are both leagues more worthwhile.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 4.5/10

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