Developer: Happy Frog Games
Genre(s): Platformer, Action
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on Steam and itch.io)
Age Rating: Everyone
Release Date: 30/07/2021
Price: $14.99 (currently only available in the US Nintendo eShop)
A code was provided for review purposes
Xenogunner is a boss focused 2D action-platformer like Bleed. I played as a hero on his journey to save his sister from an evil creature called the Xenogunner. I fought rigorous boss fights, explored interesting locales, and met a host of interesting characters. Does this title keep you engaged? Or does it leave you hoping for more? Find out in this Rapid Review.
Before beginning the game, I was asked whether I wanted to play through in story mode or arcade mode. This allowed me to choose whether I was interested in the story content, or whether I simply wanted to enjoy the combat. I really liked the inclusion of this feature. Even though the story sets the context well and develops some characters, the focus of this title is the boss fights. It is nice to have the context behind why each battle is happening, but at the same time, it is a lot of reading and is not required for users. Considering how time-consuming some of the reading is, this option helped make the game more enjoyable, especially on replays.
That being said, the story was very well-crafted. I learned about the struggles behind Zeta’s family and clan. The story was simple, but it established the plot well. I did not find it particularly engaging, though Xenogunner is not a story focused title. What it did offer was a comprehensive context that immersed me in the world and lovely characters that make the experience unique. I even got to play through two separate stories. While many of the fights are the same, I got to learn more about the world featured in Xenogunner on my second adventure. Though I would not recommend this game to someone who wanted a story-driven narrative, I found the narrative delightful.
Boss Rush Action
One place where the game thrives is in the gameplay. There are two styles. There are boss fights and normal action-platforming levels. Whereas many titles have a focus on the action-platforming, Xenogunner focuses on the boss fights. Some sections do not even have action-platforming. I had a great time regardless of whether I was fighting bosses or progressing through levels.
The boss fights stood out as the primary focus of the game due to their frequency and how unique each fight was. No two fights were similar, and it kept the game fresh throughout. At the same time, none of the bosses felt overwhelming. Though they had their own ideas, they all still fit the theme of the game and it was clear how to defeat each one. Attacks were properly telegraphed, the enemy health was always displayed on the bottom of the screen, and hitboxes perfectly fit the objects. It was my fault when I died. Knowing that I needed to improve encouraged me to continue playing the game. I was also continually motivated by the fast respawns. Instead of taking me back to the beginning of the level, I would be placed right before the boss fight. It kept me immersed and had me master each fight.
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Though the boss fights were invigorating, I was disappointed by some of the design aspects. Typically, when fighting a challenging boss, checkpoints are solely rewarded at the beginning or the end of a fight. Thus, each checkpoint signifies an achievement. I generally am proud when I reach a new checkpoint. Xenogunner takes an alternative approach. Sometimes, the checkpoint system works like I mentioned previously. Other times, I received checkpoints in the middle of a boss fight. Sometimes I would begin a boss battle with the boss at a quarter of its normal health. While this certainly makes the game more accessible, it diminished the reward I felt for defeating each boss. I would have liked to see additional difficulty options to maintain the higher level of difficulty for some players yet including different levels for those who needed it. Regardless, the bosses were rewarding to defeat.
In addition to boss fights, there are brief action platforming sections. These are reminiscent of Bleed, and I had a great time with these sections. Even though they were not the focus, they were a great break from the tense boss fights. In these areas, we got to see a decent variety of enemies. It helped me master my manoeuvrability even before I was fighting my next big threat. These segments were a pleasant addition too.
Armed and Dangerous
My main character was given multiple options to amply combat whichever situation they were faced with. Whether I was playing as Zeta or Delta, I was given multiple attacking moves, a dodge, and multiple jumps. It felt great to move around and aiming at enemies was equally as enjoyable. Though the varying projectiles added something to the title, when playing as Zeta, I always used the same weapon for the boss fights. I rarely changed my strategy because the other options simply did less damage. It seemed like one weapon was inherently better than the others. During the platforming sections, I used a different weapon and would sparingly change my weapon for a different one depending on the scenario. I would have liked to see bosses that encouraged me to change my weapons during the fight or more evenly balanced weapons.
The core gameplay loop was very fun. However, one of my main issues with the game comes with the saving feature. Instead of creating save states for me to return to, the developers of Xenogunner included passcodes that are reminiscent of old arcade games. This is a cute idea, but I did not want to remember the codes or write them down, so I ended up just leaving my game open indefinitely. Then, once I finished the game, I tried using one of the codes that I remembered and could not get it to work. Though I entered the code correctly and pressed the plus button, I was not taken to the level. I could have failed to understand the system and by the time I entered it, I already unlocked the level, but I found this system to be detrimental to my experience.
Grace from Space
Also, the UI was a bit frustrating to use. The game was clearly developed for PC players because instead of selecting options on the menu themselves, I was given a cursor to click on the options. This did not greatly impact my experience with the game, but it was tedious to enter the game because of it.
With that mild grievance out of the way, the visuals were stunning. I really liked how the art style came together. The colour palate was excellent, and the bosses all stand out from each other. I especially liked some of the more abstract boss designs. I fought a sentient gun at one point. It was an engaging mix of more serious designs with some goofy ones thrown in as well.
The sound design was similarly wonderful. Each music track was catchy and matched the boss’s energy. It captured the arcade feel that the developers were going for. The developers of Xenogunner did an excellent job with the music design.
Overall, Xenogunner is an excellent boss-rush adventure. It is accommodating, invigorating, and has a lovely charm to it that will keep players engaged throughout. There are customizable boss gauntlets and badges to collect as well to keep players coming back for more. I really enjoyed my time with this title and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a boss-rush title. If Eldest Souls was too challenging for you, Xenogunner is the perfect middle ground.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase Xenogunner on the Nintendo eShop here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.