Saturday, November 15, 2014

eXceed: Gun Bullet Children - Thoughts

When you tell someone that you're playing an "indie game", the term can be a tad misleading; the range of quality "indie games" can cover is frighteningly vast. This category includes a decent amount of gorgeous, exquisitely refined titles, but in contrast, it's also littered with a countless number of boring, uninspired titles churned out nearly every day. Finding a diamond in the rough can feel like a taxing endeavor, but it's rewarding to discover a game that the developers put a lot of love and care into crafting. Well-made games fading into oblivion is a terrible fate, so I always feel it's important to publicize underrated gems whenever I can, hoping they'll eventually receive their just due.

eXceed: Gun Bullet Children is, unfortunately, not one of those games.

Before beginning the bulk of my exposition, I believe it's best to confess my STG cardinal sin—I don't play for scoring. This is partly due to being raised on console ports of Gradius and R-Type, where the goal was more about beating the game than what my (impermanent) highscore totaled to, but I would also contribute it to the fact that I find too hard (read: impossible) to 1cc most of these games. I could still play for score nonetheless, but seeing as most games dump the majority of their points on the final level, it seemed fruitless to focus on highscore if using a continue nullified it in the process. So if I quickly brush by a scoring mechanic or fail to see its importance in any shmups hereafter, you can attribute it to my general ineptitude.

Anyway, if you scour about the internet you can find plenty of doujin STGs—so what is it that makes eXceed stand out? From a glance, the pointed enemy designs, crimson bullets, and gothic undertones help to distinguish its style, but other than that... not much. Most of the mechanical features here are genre staples: powerups, bombs, extends, and a distinctly visible hitbox on your character. Even the most interesting mechanic—charging a powerful attack by way of bullet grazing—is a feature that has been present in other games prior. The adolescent magic-imbued characters are also cookie cutter anime tropes, and the plot is fraught with frivolous Christian vernacular (Church, Fallen Angels, Holy Land, God) that the Japanese are oddly keen on weaving into lore.

Besides these basic appraisals, the actual gameplay is pretty lackluster. Enemy bullet patterns aren't all that engaging and even worse is the enemy placement, with some phases throwing a single type of enemy at you over and over again, despite the player knowing how to adequately deal with them from the first encounter. Bosses on the other hand run the gamut of "tolerable" to "insane", with certain patterns being largely indecipherable due to how similar each of the bullets look (which got me to appreciate the dual color system in bullet hell games more). There's a couple of good/interesting patterns in here, but as you do damage to the boss they become too overcomplicated for their own good (or to enjoy it as an amateur).

Not everything in the game is subpar however. The game easily stands above something like Aegis Wing or a variety of repetitive NES shooters, as you can identify moments where you're actually enjoying it and thinking "I'd like to get better at this". It's also imperative to mention that the music is the most compelling draw of the game—hands down. It doesn't immediately catch your attention, but in the heat of battle the electronic compositions gel nicely with the eXceed's style and pacing. "Stage1" and "Space Janitor" are the best examples of how the songs synergize with their respective levels, with the latter being a surprisingly uplifting-yet-intense final boss theme.

With its clunky interface, ho-hum art, and droning gameplay, eXceed: Gun Bullet Children is undeniably rough around the edges. I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's lazily designed, lacking heart, or a terrible game in general, but it certainly doesn't do much to stand out from its peers; it feels entirely unremarkable except for the soundtrack. It's a decent purchase if you're looking to own every shmup released on Steam, but otherwise there's a lot of alternatives that are far more worthy of your attention.

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