The year is 2021. When an alien fleet is detected heading towards Earth, attempts to communicate with the extraterrestrial invaders fail. With humanity scrambling to convert existing spacecraft into the first generation of starfighters, it is a small United States Star Fleet force based in Outpost Enceladus that makes the first contact with the enemy.
The events in Xenoraid take place in a near future setting, where mankind unexpectedly finds itself having to fight in the first space war against a raiding alien fleet. And, that’s where you come in. Piloting a starfighter squadron, it is down to you to show that humanity won’t give up without a fight.
Load up the Nintendo eShop on Nintendo Switch, use a filtered search to explore the shooter genre, and you will soon come to realise that it’s becoming an increasingly competitive space. Games like Sine Mora EX, Dimension Drive, Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron, Earth Atlantis, and Star Ghost have all made their mark, and before we’ve even had the chance to pull party poppers and exhale into party blowers to celebrate the portable home console’s first birthday, now, more than ever, it’s important that any new arrival can stand out from the crowd to compete for your attention.
Xenoraid can only partly achieve that. The vertically scrolling shoot’em up tasks you with intercepting the advancing alien fleet – swarms of enemies that, having ignored any attempt to communicate, rapidly fly across the screen in formation and will stop at nothing to make it to their destination. It’s kill or be killed as you dance with a bullet-ridden death.
You have the chance to retaliate with your fearless squadron, which is comprised of four starfighters that you can freely swap between. At this point, I can admit that this is the neatest gameplay mechanic that developer 10tons presents. If one starfighter takes too much damage in the heat of combat, switching it out will let you repair it once the mission is over. Let it be destroyed, and it will cost you far more credits to replace it.
The weapons that you will rely on wholly depends on the starfighters that make up your squadron. The StarLite S4 is inexpensive, agile, and has front-mounted machine guns, whereas the StarLite S-Mod has a shotgun-like primary weapon that can prove useful to take down tightly-packed groups of smaller enemy ships. Then there’s the weightier ERSA Cerberus with a built-in plasma cutter that has been modified with a custom nozzle to produce a jet of scorching flame, or the heavily armoured ERSA Minotaur that has a cannon to mercilessly pound your enemy’s hull.
However, your weapons can overheat and will require that you lay down fire on your enemies in measured bursts. With no power-ups thrown in your direction while obliterating your enemies, you will want to stop by the Tech Lab between missions to spend the credits that you earn. Well, at least those that are left over after you repair your squadron.
The Tech Lab can see you equip your starfighters with additional armour plating to make them more durable, have them carry a small nuclear warhead that detonates when they are destroyed, or install escape pods that will reimburse you whenever you have to buy a replacement starfighter. And then in the Fighter Bay, you can buy upgrades that are specific to each starfighter – whether that be increasing their rate of fire, damage output, or the potency of their secondary weapon.
The missions themselves though, are largely forgettable. With a reliance on procedurally generated enemy waves, there is the promise that players will have a different experience every time and needn’t memorise what they face. More enemy types are introduced as you progress between missions and to different planets, but there never comes a moment at which Xenoraid astounds. And, that’s the real problem here.
There is some satisfaction to be found in slaughtering the alien forces that are hellbent on attacking Earth in Xenoraid, but the experience fails to ever be more than distinctly average. Even throwing in the chance for friends to fly alongside you as wingmen seems a flawed move, a couch co-op experience that comes at the cost of removing the best idea that the game has going for it. There are better games in the genre to spend your time with on Nintendo Switch, then – meaning that it’s best to leave someone else to defend mankind in this one.