Back in November 2019 the Sega fan base was treated to a brand new title for the Mega Drive. Xeno Crisis blasted its way to the homes of Sega nuts around the land and it was universally acclaimed. I reviewed the Switch version upon release and had nothing but praise for how well it controlled. I could not help but be impressed with the visual style, soundtrack and overall gameplay. Had it been released in the mid 90’s, when the Mega Drive was current, it would easily be in many players top ten for the system. I am not one to argue, it is an amazing title.
Xeno Crisis is such a pure game that appeals to many different play styles. The casuals amongst you can blast the co-op for some shooter fun. Hardcore gamers can reach for that illusive 1cc of every stage. And those that simply appreciate fine pixel art and chip tunes can indulge in what is one of the best 2D games in recent years. Xeno Crisis has now landed on the Dreamcast and is a port of the Mega Drive code. Let us dive right in and see if this stellar Mega Drive game cuts the mustard on my beloved Dreamcast.
If you are not familiar with the Mega Drive title, or it’s modern console versions, Xeno Crisis is a straight up shooter. It doesn’t try to mix anything else into its gameplay. You take control of a marine who must rid Io, a Jupiter moon, of alien bad guys. The story unfolds as you progress through each stage culminating in a good or bad ending just like retro games of old. There is now the occasional bit of voice work during the cutscenes. The voice work is surprisingly decent and you will enjoy its inclusion. The challenge remains, Xeno Crisis is a hard game to crack. But thankfully developer Bitmap Bureau has included an easy mode for those who want to chill while playing.
The game begins with your choice between John Marsh or Sarah Ridley. Two hardcore marines who are the first wave of assault on the moon. You can have a green or blue uniform and each character has their own strengths. John is slower but has more ammo and Sarah is quicker but needs to reload more often. You have the option to upgrade your character to help with your mission. Picking up dog-tags dropped by the aliens act as the games currency. A shop that has upgrades such as extra health or ammo pops up at the end of each stage. You will need to spend your points wisely as the later game becomes very tough.
So how does Xeno Crisis play on the Dreamcast compared to the Mega Drive counterpart? You can play the game in several ways. Firstly a three button system where holding fire locks your direction and allows you to strafe. A six button system where the Dreamcast face buttons determine your shot direction. And finally by using the Dreamcast’s Twin Sticks you can play the game like a twin stick shooter. Your right stick moves your marine around and the left stick control your direction of fire. The controls are spot on and feel tight. Any mistakes are your own and having three methods to choose from allow you to play how you want to.
The core game will have you blasting hordes of alien critters that appear as you enter each room. You cannot move onto the next until you clear what is in front of you. Each of the alien types has a different attack, so you will develop strategies for taking each one out. You have access to a limited supply of grenades to help clear your screen and a roll move that gets you out of a tight spot. Using these two secondary features are crucial if you want to beat Xeno Crisis. The roll makes you invincible for a split second and your grenades are great for taking out bosses quickly. The rooms are procedural generated which means you will not be able to memorise what is coming next. But nothing leaves the confides of familiarity, it just mixes things up for you.
To help you along the way there are ten different weapons that all have unique features. Your standard assault rifle will be used the most but rocket launchers, homing and spread shots are just some of the others available. When you pick up a new weapon a 20 second timer will start to count down. You only have that brief window to take advantage of your pick up but this helps break up the gameplay. Otherwise you would settle for a favourite weapon and some are more powerful than others. Also to aid your quest are health pick ups, extra grenades and the already mentioned dog-tags.
You will need to pick up more ammo as your assault rifle depletes but these appear just in time. The only other aspects you need to know is your melee attack that can be used when close to an enemy and the odd key card that randomly appear to open otherwise inaccessible rooms. Xeno Crisis keeps gameplay simple, there are no gimmicks or awkward moments. The gameplay just keeps to what is best. Blasting action with the odd weapon to break things up and pick ups to keep you alive. The pace of the game is excellent. It slowly ramps up introducing more and more nasty foes and ways to kill you. The bosses are satisfying as well, they feel the screen and each one will require you to use a different tactic.
Visually Xeno Crisis is stunning. You will not need me to tell you that the pixel art is some of the best we have seen for some time. Animations and effects ooze quality and Bitmap Bureau have clearly poured a lot of love into this Dreamcast port. The only criticism I have of the game is some of the areas do mimic each other even if the colours and enemies are different. This is not really an issue as the stages do switch between inside and outside and have three main types of environment. The bosses are wonderful. Huge behemoths that fill the screen and each one has their own attack patterns.
One of the stand out features of Xeno Crisis is is the amazing soundtrack. It is so good I actually downloaded it to my phone to listen to separately. The chip tune beats make full use of the Mega Drive hardware and have been lovingly recreated with even more clarity for the Dreamcast. It feels about right to mention that the soundtrack is out now on vinyl and CD. I would go as far to say that this is one of gaming’s greatest chip tune soundtracks. I know that seem like high praise but everything about it adds so much more excitement, tension and enjoyment to the gameplay.
The main thing I take away from Xeno Crisis on the Dreamcast is just how much fun it is. It is a pure joy to play and with so many controller options the game can become fresh each time I play. I am so happy that this title made it to the Dreamcast. You will fall in love with it as well and any shooter fans should be putting this top of their wishlists. If you love a challenge then Xeno Crisis provides this in spades and the easy mode will help to make it more accessible to less experienced players.
I would like to see an online multiplayer added as this would be possible on the Dreamcast. It would be amazing to team up with someone around the world and take out the alien baddies. I will, however, settle for the two player local play and hope to try this out soon. Xeno Crisis is available to order for the Dreamcast right now and you owe it to yourself to grab a copy. This is one of the best indie games of the last decade and this new port makes it even more essential in my book.