Smash TV has been part of most gamers’ lives whether it was their Saturday afternoon routine, they saw box art in a magazine, or played one of many games inspired by the arena shooter genre it created.
Along with that, we have all feared going toe-to-toe with the iconic Xenomorph from the Alien franchise. HR Geiger was certainly cognizant of the nightmares he would be inducing with his creation, but had no idea of the inspiration he would ignite in millions across the world.
Bitmap Bureau took the iconic Smash TV gameplay and sprinkled some classic Xenomorph action and mashed them together in their brand new 16-bit run ‘n gun game, Xeno Crisis.
Not Just Another Bug Hunt
Xeno Crisis is a top-down arena shooter available for PC, or physically on Genesis/Mega Drive. Bitmap Bureau later plans to release Xeno Crisis on Dreamcast and Neo Geo AES/SVS – yes that’s right; Xeno Crisis will be on one of those giant cartridges that can double as a coffee table. Bitmap Bureau isn’t messing around with their first foray into the arena shooter genre.
The first thing you’ll be greeted to is a cutscene done in beautiful pixel art from Henk Niebord, previously known for his work on Contra 4, Shantae and The Misadventure of Fink, to name a few. The mini-movie sets up the story of a squad of space Marines being sent to investigate a distress signal. Sound familiar? I hope so, and you’re all the better to recognize it as you’ll see nods to everything from Aliens and Terminator to Tremors and Predator.
Before landing on the ill-fated outpost, you select either a male or female Marine. I couldn’t help but immediately be reminded of Jill Valentine of Resident Evil fame when seeing the female character sporting a blue beret and handgun, which immediately scored some bonus points with me. From what I noticed, the female Marine is a bit faster, while the male Marine can take more hits.
Mommy Always Said There Were No Monsters
Before even getting into the game, I should mention there are two modes of difficulty: Easy and Hard. No joking, there’s no “medium,” and the difference will almost immediately be apparent. Hard mode makes the Marines squishy and turns the enemies into bullet sponges. I have no shame in admitting that I bumped it down to “Easy” after only one attempt, at first thinking I was a professional gamer from the ’90s.
Xeno Crisis quickly reminded me that growing up with challenging games didn’t make me any better at them. I grew very familiar with the “Continue” screen, but it has a good bit of personality, which helped ease the recurring failure I experienced. When you chose to continue, the Marine punches an alien right in the face, and you jump back into battle with temporary invincibility provided by an explosion! I’ve never experienced such a satisfying feeling on a “Continue” screen, which is made even sweeter with how much Xeno Crisis kicks your butt to get there.
It’s the Only Way to be Sure
Now you may be wondering, “I’m spoiled with today’s twin-stick shooters because the right stick fires and the left stick moves my character, so how the heck does this work on a Genesis controller?” Wonder no more! Granted, I was also concerned and tried the game with both the 3-button and the 6-button Genesis controller. If one wants an extra level of difficulty, go with the 3-button, but I cannot advise enough to use the 6-button controller.
With the traditional 3-button controller, one has to point with the D-pad and fire with a face button, so the Marines need to keep their wits about them while moving and dodging. Using the 6-button turns the A, B, X and Y buttons into a right stick or a second D-pad essentially. Using the 6-button controller, one is able to fire in the respective directions of A, B, X and Y representing to shoot down, right, up and left. Using the face buttons as directional shooting is IDEAL, especially for swarms of baddies and boss fights. All this in mind, one has to learn very quickly how to use the rolling dodge to slip through groups of insanity.
Another Glorious Day in the Corps
The selection of weapons includes a basic pulse rifle, rocket launcher, homing missiles and a variety of other guns. When ammo reaches zero, the trusty combat knife whips out automatically when close to a single enemy, but the knife cannot willingly be used. That may be one of my solid complaints when you are down to the knife and are unable to dodge-roll enough to grab more ammo, you will take damage since you can only hit one enemy at a time with the knife.
That may sound nit-picky, but I feel like a game relying so much on ammo should have some sort of melee attack when no bullets are left. The other guns available run on a timer, which can work to your benefit if you are quick enough. Sometimes I would find myself mowing down the regular baddies hastily enough that I could sneak the more powerful weapons into some boss battles. These more powerful weapons definitely helped but are just as randomized as the enemy encounters, so I could not always bank on a certain arsenal just before a boss fight.
Speaking of the weapons, I should mention the ability to upgrade each Marine’s arsenal. After each boss battle, dog tags collected in the previous level are used to purchase upgrades. These upgrades include anything from speed and power boosts, increasing maximum health or ammo, to also buying continues. How one decides to upgrade can make or break the next level, which I learned the hard way. Well, I learned a lot of things the hard way in this game as it takes no prisoners.
They Mostly Come at Night… Mostly
I did feel like bosses following the mid-way point are almost a joke. The mid-way boss could have been closer to the end rather than a random spike halfway through the game. That may also be me making excuses, but I spent more time on that boss than most of the game. Stating the name of the boss may be a spoiler, so I’ll shy away, and honestly spoiling it won’t prepare anyone any better.
The aesthetic of Xeno Crisis does a good job of keeping things fresh as you progress, along with the fact that the maps are procedurally generated. Bitmap Bureau could have just kept the game in the Alien world going from a torn planet, to a lab and then to the nest, but they maintain a nice variety.
As the game progresses, you can definitely the see the inspiration from genres, like action, horror and sci-fi cinema. The inspirations go along with not only the environments, but also the enemy variety. In later levels, our Marines encounter zombies when, once killed, actually return as an even deadlier foe – reminding me of inspirations from Half-Life and even the first Resident Evil remake.
One enemy I thought was clever wore hazmat suits and carried shields. The shields must first be hit with a roll, before bullets will do any damage to said-suited baddies. All these things and more will keep one on their toes.
Xeno Crisis is a fresh take on an aged genre, with plenty of homages to what helped birth this insane run-and-gun. I highly recommend teaming up with a buddy to take on the onslaught, even though it still won’t prepare you for a game that is much less forgiving than any modern games of today. However, the game is not so unfair that it takes away from the fun – it just makes you want to get better. As a challenge and a reminder of the old days of arcades, Xeno Crisis should be part of any Genesis library.
- Procedurally generated maps keep the experience fresh
- Co-Op makes any gamer better with a buddy
- Variety of enemies and themes
- Slugging an alien after getting your butt kicked
- Difficulty level may turn some away
- Restarting from the beginning with no passwords or save features
- Difficulty spike may prevent players from experiencing full game
- Lack of melee weapon