It’s an odd thing when a game fails to recognise the very essence of what makes its genre great. Twin-stick shooters are all about the pick up and play. Generally small in size and not graphically intensive, you can boot one up in an instant and burn an hour or maybe more, mindlessly blowing everything that moves into oblivion. It’s instant gratification, and can provide a welcome escape from other more thought intensive pastimes. SmashTV nailed it way back when and so did Geometry Wars, and Waves more recently. What Brain Slap Studios incarnation Hexodius has done, is to deny this simple pleasure by saddling the experience with unnecessary things like a plot and pointless dungeon crawler elements.
The superfluous storyline revolves around a computer AI gone berserk and it’s up to you, assisted by your robot sidekick, to save the day. There could be more there, but I honestly struggled to pay attention. Every time that little tin can piped up with some kind of narrative-progressing dribble, I found myself struggling not to hammer ‘A’ to make him shut up. The game should have listed the command as “Press ‘A’ to not care”. I came here to shoot stuff not listen to you blab about a “corrupt AI” and the like. No one needs motivation in a game like this. The world map, working in conjunction with RoboBlabber, also does a fine job of slowing the pace down further. The game is split across 6 themed worlds, hexagonally tiled, each with a multitude of levels, and forces you to pilot your little avatar between battles.
In this staging area, you can trigger checkpoints or purchase upgrades at the shop. And that’s about it. It’s completely redundant and could all be taken care of by a well designed end-of-level screen. It seems to be a function of a plot that serves no function itself. The most confusing thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any overall theme to the game. As mentioned, a wayward AI is wreaking havoc but I couldn’t grasp where this was taking place. Is it in the computer itself? Out in space? Some worlds are mechanically-themed to suggest the interior of some computer, but the next minute you find yourself in a garden-themed world. It all seems very disjointed.
Looking past these annoyances to the core gameplay is also disappointing. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before and seen done better. Levels come in the form of 3 variants: survive, destroy and defend. Survival battles are exactly as they sound, requiring you to endure waves of enemies. Destroy levels are similar to survival ones, with the added requirement of taking out generators, usually guarded by turrets. Defend forces you to guard your robotic aide from the onslaught as he hacks terminals. There is one other bonus mode that sees you take control to the irritating robot and navigate an obstacle course to retrieve barrels, after which you are rewarded with coin for your troubles. These could not be less enjoyable and can thankfully be avoided.
Hexodius’ enemies come in a variety of forms, each with their own tactics and varying durability. None are worth mentioning, except perhaps the flying butterfly class who I hope have a special place in hell reserved for them and their infuriating dodging skills. The waves spawn too slowly to inspire any excitement or urgency, and you never feel particularly overwhelmed. Each world ends with a boss battle that is completely different from the level itself, which is a welcome change. It’s a wonder why Brain Slap didn’t opt to spread these game modes out over the rest of the maps to break the monotony that quickly sets in.
Ship and weapon upgrades are purchased from the in-game store and although they are numerous, you may find yourself sticking to the same load-out thoughout as the later unlocks are not much of an improvement. Aside from the obvious speed/fire-rate increases there are a few more interesting armaments such as a deployable turret, mines and an EMP pulse. Nice, but nothing groundbreaking. With the faults of the story mode, the game could have redeemed itself with the Arcade mode. But no, it cripples that by forcing players to unlock maps and weapons via the story mode. And even with these unlocked, that too quickly becomes boring.
The aesthetic presentation isn’t up to much either. Shunning the current indie favoured retro style is at least admirable, but Brain Slap didn’t replace it with anything inspiring. World themes range from garden to snow to volcanic, with some environment specific enemies in each. The soundtrack is in the style of 8-bit chiptune which becomes grating very, very fast. For an example of how to do a chiptune score correctly, look no further than Super Hexagon.
VERDICT: On paper, Hexodius may have seemed solid enough, but in practice it fails on even the simplest of tasks. The addition of the utterly pointless narrative and the run-of-the-mill gameplay just make this game unnecessary. Sure it kills some time and is, on occasion, enjoyable, but if it had dropped the dead weight it could have achieved much more. There are far better twin-stick blasters out that do everything Hexodius does only much, much better.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.