You could be forgiven for taking a glance at X-Type + and dismissing it as another Geometry Wars-style shmup. But you would be wrong. Sure, the basic mechanic at play here is the classic twin-stick Robotron shooting that has been so abused in the last decade, but it blends this method of control with the swirling, intimidating bullet hell patterns that you would associate with an NTSC-J arcade cab rather than a Western-developed indie game.
Rather than throwing your diminutive craft against a variety of different enemies, followed by an encounter with an end of level mayor, X-Type’s bite-sized stages consist of procedurally generated, increasingly difficult boss craft, and nothing more. This wouldn’t be the first time such a concept has been attempted on a Nintendo console. The ultra-hardcore Ketsui Death Label has done this kind of thing before, albeit with a far more complex scoring system, which is exactly as you would expect from Cave. X-Type is a much more accessible affair, and although it appears outwardly basic there are plenty of nuances to consider when taking on the curious-looking alien hostiles.
Each monstrosity consists of numerous individual parts surrounding that old shmup chestnut: the core. Some of these parts spray out plumes of deadly bullets, others focus laser beams in the direction they are facing, or spew forth larger spiny projectiles which can thankfully be picked off by your own laser beams. Destroying the core while there are still parts attached will award you a much higher points total, and this is easily achievable over the first half a dozen stages once you have got your eye in. Later on you will have no choice but to pick off some of the weaponry before aiming for the central part, to give your avatar respite from the ridiculous amount of ordnance.
Two game modes are available, offering profoundly different ways to play. Classic hands you three lives, and asks you to methodically work your way through each stage in turn. There are no rewards for speed, and essentially the longer you survive, the more points you will accumulate. The risk/reward factor consistently comes into play. Sometimes it is tempting to go straight for the core, but you soon realise that it is suicidal to do so without shaving off some of the more deadly limbs from the structure beforehand.
Plus Mode is a sped-up, time-attack mode with the addition of three smart bombs in your arsenal that wipes the screen of bullets and temporarily shields you. Enemy attacks are more difficult to avoid with homing missiles that follow you around the screen and the addition of the laser beams which you don’t encounter during a Classic onslaught. Each time you smash your way through a boss, time is added to your gradually diminishing clock. Each time you lose a life, you lose precious seconds.
Online leaderboards are a real motivating factor to hone your skills in Classic mode before embarking on the much trickier time attack Plus mode. Best of all, when you access the leaderboards, you can watch each individual effort and glean some excellent tactical knowledge from your peers.
Nintendo’s Wii U looks like being a fertile breeding ground for indie developers, thanks to the way Java and HTML titles can be glitzed up and appropriated for the platform using Nintendo Web Framework. X-Type + began life in browser form, don’t forget. The only bugbear was the lack of off-screen play, although there is support for other Wii controller types.
VERDICT: X-Type+ is a wonderfully simple idea tweaked and tuned into a damn fine little game, with an underlying depth and replay value that will keep seasoned shooter aficionados coming back for more. It also serves as a nice entry-level bullet hell affair before you start investigating the more exotic wares further afield. Recommended.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.