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Xenocider

Genre: Shmup Developer: Retro Sumus Publisher: Retro Sumus Players: Released: 2021

After-market homebrew games have been around in some form or fashion for years now, but lately we’ve seen a surge in their quality. They’ve gone from simple games with basic graphics to titles that rival anything the major software houses of the ’90s could produce. Games like Xenocrisis and Tanglewood brought gamers the kind of titles they’ve longed for, and the Dreamcast has benefited as well.  The 2D shmup Sturmwind was released in 2013, and Pier Solar and the Great Architects received an upgraded port in 2015.

While all of those games were great, they all had one thing in common: they were 2D. No one had made a true 3D shooter on the Dreamcast since Sega pulled support. That changed with a new title by the Spanish four-man team called Retro Sumus. Xenocider upped the ante considerably, not only offering a great new 3D title but also making a major leap in indie game development on the console. Xenocider was first announced in 2014, and it was inspired by the on-rails shooter classics Space Harrier and Sin ‘n Punishment. Those are some exceptional standards to have, particularly from a small indie outfit like Retro Sumus, but the group hails had a clear vision early on of what they wanted Xenocider to be. They took things slowly, and like a good pie, the game baked quietly until it was ready to serve. Retro Sumus took great care not to rush to production, releasing a demo and beta testing its product until it reached the desired level of quality. After six years, Xenocider was ready to shoot its way onto people’s Dreamcast consoles in January 2021.

As with most games in the genre, the focus is on presentation and gameplay. The plot is almost non-existent. A female cyborg named Xara has awoken from stasis with a voice in her head commanding her to destroy… planets? Yes, that’s right, our job as the main character is to wipe out entire civilizations! It’s odd being the bad guy, but it’s also refreshing in a sense. The question is, is Xara really the villain?

To find out, players must battle through more than a half-dozen worlds. Xenocider does a great job of explaining each one, detailing its civilization, terrain, and even the obstacles that Xara will encounter on the surface. Planets have two different routes that can be explored, and Retro Sumus added some really cool touches in this regard, changing Xena’s movement according to the planet’s environment. For instance, one stage is underwater, so she runs more slowly and uses SCUBA gear. In another, Xara is waist-deep in swamp water. Most of the other stages have her running, Space Harrier-style flying, or riding a hoverboard-type craft and they switch between them enough to keep players on their toes and adjust. While some stages are more visually impressive than others, the graphics are solid overall and give each planet a separate identity. The change in visuals and movement aren’t major, but they really help bring along with the planet descriptions, they bring a sense of individuality to each planet. The bosses are always the same but having two different routes adds replayability and variety. They’re a welcome addition, as the stages themselves are often quite short and straightforward. It’s nitpick, perhaps, but given that replaying the stages is expected since the game is based on perfecting each stage and getting the best score, it’s more of an observation than a gripe. My only real complaint is that Xara’s shot is so large that it can sometimes make seeing enemies difficult, particularly those that come at her on the ground. By the time one sees them, it’s often too late to dodge effectively.

What story there is comes via CG cut scenes between stages that are really professionally done. I was surprised to see them included and be of such high quality, and they flow well. The presentation is completed with an excellent, bass-heavy techno soundtrack. Xencider has multiple game modes, too, some of which are provided specifically to help players do better. Only the main story mode is available at first, but completing it opens a harder mode and two mini games. I suggest using the Practice mode to go over the stages already completed so that passing them will be easier. Saving lives for the later ones is of the utmost importance. There are even in-game achievements to unlock other goodies.

In her quest for annihilation, Xara relies on some powerful weapons. Complimenting her standard shot are upgradable pods. They can be loaded with a secondary weapon like nukes and extra shots, as well as feature that include armor and shields. Collecting “xeno points” throughout each stage increases their power. Xenocider pulls no punches with its difficulty, so upgrading is essential to get through the game. In each stage, there is a hidden Dreamcast console that scores extra upgrade points. Most of the time, it’s not hard, and it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Xenocider is easy to control, with a scheme similar to another Dreamcast shooter, Charge ‘n Blast. The analog stick aims the cursor and the face buttons jump, activate auto-fire, and any equipped secondary attack. the triggers are used move left and right. The game is reportedly compatible with a host of different controllers, including the Sega Arcade Stick and twin sticks. I only have a standard controller but knowing that there are a wide variety of control options just impresses me all the more. It also uses the VMU and vibration pack. Retro Sumus really checked all the boxes, which shows how much love went into Xenocider’s development.

It would be fair to say that Retro Sumus are big Sega fans. There’s a bonus stage that’s a modern take on the one from Shinobi, nods to games like Streets of Rage, and Fantasy Land mode was definitely a bit more than just inspired by Space Harrier. Complete with mushrooms, one-eyed mammoths, and an entirely different control scheme, the entire world is a lush and vivid love letter to Sega’s classic. That’s what makes Xenoxcider so enjoyable. There’s enough content that things never get repetitive, and the massive amounts of different enemies and obstacles the game throws at players keeps things fresh after multiple plays.

Xenocider doesn’t feel like an indie game that came out almost 20 years after the Dreamcast was discontinued. So much love and care has been poured into it that anyone who doesn’t know better would figure it to be an official release. There are some rough edges, but for a first release, Retro Sumus has done a terrific job. The action is constant and challenging, and there’s enough variety ensure many playthroughs. It will be exciting to see what Retro Sumus can come up with for its sophomore effort, and hopefully Xenocider marks the first of many great Dreamcast titles.

SCORE: 9 out of 10

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