Hexodius

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Hexodius
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Hexodius
Shmup
Steam, Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Brain Slap Studio
Release Date: October 16th, 2013
Hexodius is what seems to be the first game to be released by new developers Brain Slap Studio, eventually picked up for distribution by Namco Bandai. Geared off your basic dual-stick shooter, the title takes on the concept of rebuilding your own ship to fight against an evil A.I. that is trying to take over. Originally released for the PC through the Steam network, the game eventually found its way over to the Xbox Live marketplace, both locations finding plenty of negativity. Does this simple concept grow into a grand and loveable title that is overlooked and greatly frowned upon out of general fatigue for the style, or is Hexodius actually that abysmal an experience as everyone makes it out to be?

You play as B.O.B., a robot that was sent in to destroy a corrupt A.I. before he does any real damage. The whole time you have a helper A.I. by your side, able to unlock certain panels, as well as upgrades to the store. In order to reach the corrupted artificial being, you have to go through various dimensions and defeating various waves of smaller robots in the many arenas in each sector, all leading up to one large boss fight before moving on to the next plain. It’s a simple concept that, at first, is incredibly boring. But, in that respect, it’s also incredibly difficult.

Hexodius starts off easy, sending limited enemies your way that move rather slowly and only seem to dive bomb you. Picture the first few waves of Geometry Wars, including the enemies that run away from your bullets, but with far less activity. The thing is, given how boring the first two dimensions are, you are lulled into a cocky mental state, making you lose focus and generally not pay attention, allowing you to get hit by the simplest of enemies without even realizing it. If this was on purpose, it works quite well, but given the difficulty curve that erupts by the third world its impossible to believe it was meant to be intentional.

Soon the enemies become much harder to take out, especially when their speed and ranged weaponry improves. You’re swamped with larger swarms as well, and even the end level bosses are far more complicated to defeat. What felt like a boring walk in the park leaves you tediously contemplating what upgrades to use to better assist you, as well as if you should exit out and save, or just risk death and restart depending on the difficulty level you chose. Sadly, most of the upgrades really end up being useless. You’ll find yourself leaning towards the ones that allow the power-ups to unlock at the start, slow down time, or disable your enemies, especially if the robots shown on the customization screen are those will forcefields around them.

This title also pays homage to some of the classic Namco titles with the end game bosses. Dimension one’s final boss is a modern take on Space Invaders, and the sixth dimension throws a Pac-Man incarnation at you, as well as a Pong battle that is surprisingly more difficult than you would expect. The few bosses prior put up a good fight too, and most of the time are patterned with attacks more akin to Shmup titles than anything else. In the end, it all comes down a simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, or so you would think. If you win it you move on to a boss gauntlet, and if you shoot on accident you go straight to your console’s dashboard. This is possibly a glitch, but who knows by the time you get to it.

Hexodius has your typical Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulties, which don’t really do much other than deduct one hit you can take before you die. The real challenge comes from Hardcore mode, which is technically just the original eight and sixteem-bit era of gaming: Making it so if you die, you start from the beginning by having your save wiped. This makes the last few worlds even more gruelling and tedious, making you paranoid that one more hit and all the work you’ve done will disappear forever. There are some ways around it, such as the use of save points in the Nintendo Entertainment System Godzilla style game board that also heal your ship, but they mean nothing if you run out of life, making you want to exit as soon as you see your last hit point appear on the screen. There are other ways, but for the sake of not revealing too much and making you think, that bit of common sense will remain unspoken here.

Even with that increased difficulty, Hexodius is still extremely boring. The soundtrack might have saved the game, but the music, even sound effects are hit and miss between one another. This means you’ll sometimes get the music, sometimes you’ll get the sound effect. None of this is ever consistent and its a real distraction. Again, if this was intentional to make the game even more frustrating, kudos to Brain Slap Studio, though it seems more like a conflict in the audio files. This is a crucial issue with some of the bosses, as without it you don’t know if you’re doing damage to them at certain waves. This is absolutely crucial in the later gauntlet when they come back harder to kill. It honestly can take you upwards of twenty five minutes, even thirty to defeat one (which is what happened to me during the repeat battle against dimension five’s boss) if you think you’re hitting it, but in the end aren’t making a scratch and out of rhythm to the pattern they have.

Visually, there’s nothing too striking to look at, but it does look nice either way. Most of the dimensions have their own signature look, such as a subtle mechanical design in the first world, down to a hellish fire and lava filled world, followed by terrain that looks like it’s right out of the Antarctic. Sadly the arenas in each of these worlds are minimal, leaving you to play the same ones multiple times. There are some obstacles that appear at times as well, such as fire spewing devices and floor grates that slow you down, which make avoiding moving guns during generator stages, even the bonus rooms you collect canisters for additional funds to buy power-ups from the store more difficult than they have any right to be.

Thankfully the controls to this game are spot on. The dual-stick approach responds perfectly, and the impact of the weaponry can always be augmented by purchasing or acquiring special weapons or power-ups from certain arenas. These special weapons are activated by the triggers and bumpers of the controller, allowing you to customize them to the way your hands are accustomed to, such as placing defensive items on the bumper, and offensive weaponry to the triggers, and vice versa. It allows for better reaction time when swarmed by enemies, or your need for some kind of protection from an oncoming shot you simply cannot avoid or afford to be hit by. It would have been nice to allow more slots for enhancements though, either by purchasing or earning from gameplay, or even in the form of downloadable content.

Story mode isn’t all this game has to offer either. While that mode makes up a good eight hours of gameplay, you also get Arcade Mode, which is the general layout of the survival arenas in each of the first six dimensions. You get three minutes to take out as many enemies as you can, allowing you to toy with the upgrades to find the perfect means to get a better score and grade. Then there’s Boss Rush Mode, which seems to only unlock from beating the Story Mode in Hardcore difficulty, which is nothing more than the latter boss gauntlet from Story mode rehashed in a similar Arcade Mode manner.

All of this said, what does Hexodius end up being? Imagine Geometry Wars with an insane difficulty spike and the game board of the Godzilla title on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and you’ll get the point. This game has it’s share of glitches in the audio, and is incredibly boring and tedious until the final few dimensions. You could argue all the issues were all designed to keep the gamer from properly focusing, and if that is the case than Brain Slap Studio are some sadistic bastards for perfectly implementing these glitches to make this title any more difficult than it has any right to be. For a debut game from a new studio it does a lot of things right that most developers would drop the ball with. It’s a mildly entertaining pick-up-and-play title that is worth grabbing the demo to see if it’s for you, but you need to play with the understanding that not only does it get boring pretty quick, but it gets a hell of a lot more difficult, frustrating, and repetitive seemingly out of nowhere, making the entire package a true endurance test in positive and negative ways.

Overall Score: 7/11
Hexodius
Hexodius
Hexodius
Digital review copy of this title provided by Namco Bandai.