Everyone likes nostalgia but it’s a hard thing to get right. Apply the retro too much and it’s easy to remember why “they” don’t make them like that any more, but covering everything in pixels and calling it a day ends up being little more than style for style’s sake. The trick to modern retro is to find the balance between the look and feel of the time and also remembering that it’s 2015. Or you can say the hell with that and make a horizontal shooter that feels like a long-lost arcade-accurate port to hardware that lies somewhere between Genesis and Neo Geo. Either is good, and Xydonia chose the latter option.
Xydonia is in early alpha, only recently released in early August but already getting the feel of a more simple type of shooter down pat. At least in its current stage score is a reflection of how far you got and how many things you killed getting there rather than working a combo multiplier, and experience with the level is every bit as helpful in progressing as quick reflexes. There’s a few places where incoming enemy lines could stand to be signposted, but it’s hard to complain too much about a single-level showcase designed to give a sense for the look and feel of a game that has a long development road ahead.
The current build is both free and recommended over at itch.io, with the rough shape of its gameplay system already in place. Two pilots with different ships are available, with the primary difference being the rotating options around the craft. Harrison Blade has up to two options that fire either forward or back, changeable with the press of a button, while Tyrone “Bull” Johnson (who, in an unfortunate display of how hard it is to get 90s homage right, may get the reward for most stereotyped black character since FFVII’s Barret) gets three rotating buzz-saw blades. There are two types of gun available, changeable on the fly by floating pickups, and each powers up three times. Finally there’s a Burst option, although at the moment it seems to fill automatically during a section of the level rather than have any gameplay mechanics attached to its charge. Burst shoots a hyper-powerful spread shot that decimates anything in its path, and also cancels enemy bullets. It’s a fairly simple set of mechanics but, most importantly, they feel good to use in exactly the arcade style the game is going for. Think a slightly more complicated horizontal Truxton for reference, including one-hit deaths but thankfully a bit more forgiving in terms of both retaining your progress and keeping a few powerups for the next life.
While it’s still too early to know what the eventual shape of Xydonia will look like, the alpha demo easily puts the game on the Must-Watch! list. Future features are planned around multiple level paths, at least four more characters beyond the two currently available, a “scavenging system” for accessing more goodies (what that system entails and the extras it unlocks are is a mystery for the future), and of course levels, enemies, and music. The game has already gone through at least one transformation, as seen in this video from last year, and the current art style matches up much more nicely to the type of game Xydonia is a throwback to. More than a simple style, though, the graphics are working within the limitations of the hardware of the time, albeit without the screen flicker and slowdown that plagued the systems when developers got a little too ambitious for the hardware. The art, music, and gameplay feel make you look for the plastic cartridge the game should have come in, but nostalgia isn’t the cause of its replayability. Xydonia is a fun little shooter that earns its hard drive space (admitted, that’s only 12MB) with its varied level, enemy variety, and fair challenge. Head on over to itch.io to check it out.