X-Scape came out a few months ago now from developer Q-Games, headed by Dylan Cuthbert, one of the people behind the original StarFox on the SNES. It is a little strange to me how relatively under the radar this release has been because, and I’m a bit afraid of the expectations I am setting here, it is in a way the StarFox sequel many have been waiting for.
The first thing you need to know about X-Scape is that you need to go to the options and change the default touch screen controls. I stuck with them for far too long, out of stubbornness and laziness, and they only went from feeling terrible to feeling slightly less terrible. Then I switched to d-pad controls, and it instantly felt like I was playing a better game.
As far as the story goes, it’s nothing to write home about. All you need to know is that you’re the pilot of a kick-ass space tank, and you will have to deal with the occasional sarcastic remarks of an AI sidekick. It’s not really important.
What is important is that the game plays really well (when using appropriate controls) and looks fantastic. It has this retro 3D monochrome look to it that is really striking and reminiscent of StarFox on the SNES, except with a silky smooth framerate.
Your tank is surprisingly versatile. Of course, most of your time will be spent on ground combat, but make your way to a ramp, and you will suddenly be flying at the cost of a slowly depleting shield. You do not control your craft’s pitch or height in any significant way, preventing the game from truly feeling like StarFox’ lost child, but piloting it still feels surprisingly right.
During certain missions, you tank will even latch on to certain structures and become a stationary turret. I usually despise “turret segments” in game because they always feel unsatisfying, especially in platformers, but in this case, the type of game this is ensure that the shooting will feel good and not like a hastily thrown together minigame.
There are other types of missions that go from races to finding and collecting mcguffins, to navigating narrow tunnels. Truly, the variety is impressive and not one mission type feels undercooked or out of place. And the developer went beyond simply offering varied mission types, and mixed things up within missions. For instance, a mission has you collecting data discs, but some of those discs contain a virus that screw up your HUD and your visibility (complete with a screen-tearing, “you’re looking at a computer virus” effect that is impressive for a DSiware game).
The game is short, but there are several optional missions that you can go back and complete and that reward you with points that you use to upgrade your ship’s capabilities. You can also aim to unlock all of the “warp gates” that connect the different planets, or stages, in the game.
But that brings me to what irritated me a bit in the game: whenever you complete your current story mission, the game will tell you what your next objective is, and on what planet it can be found. But to get to planet Y from planet X, you may need to take a gate that brings you to planet L, then M, then N. And that path is not always made clear on the in-game map. At one point, I found myself going back and forth between planets near my objective, unable to actually find the gate leading to it. But eventually I found it, and managed to finish the game and really enjoyed myself the whole time.
I feel Q-Games really did an amazing job making a game that doesn’t feel like a DSiware title by handling smartly that format’s limitations. The game looks simple, but it looks good, it’s stable, it’s smooth and it sports some impressive effects. It looks and even plays just enough like StarFox to scratch an itch that hasn’t been scratched in a long time. It is one of the pricier offerings on the DSi Shop at 800 pts, but then again it is simply on another tier than all those phone game ports.
Highly recommended (if you couldn't tell that already)!
Oh, they are. I hope they are rewarded for their efforts on DSiware, because they're just amongst the best on the DLC scene, what with PixelJunk on PSN, Trajectile and this. If their success with PixelJunk and tepid sales on DSiware were to lead them to stop their relationship with Nintendo, well, I'd be a pretty sad panda.
Well I know what my next DSiware purchase is then! I thought this looked interesting since it was first shown, and I've been wanting to try the original X ever since I heard that arrangement of one of it's songs in Brawl.
Q-Games seems to have produced an armada of unique games this generation, so good for them. I still need to crack open my copy of Pixeljunk Monsters Deluxe.
If only the gaming media paid an equal amount of attention to both PixelJunk and Q-Games DSiWare stuff... or even ANY attention at all to DSiWare, I guess.
I gave the touch controls the good ol' college try, too. I just couldn't get comfortable with them. Good game, though. As before, I was also impressed with the variety that Q-Games were able to eke out of the X-Scape formula. And the thematic consistency of each of their games. I wonder how the original X played.
X-Scape actually reminds me of a Commodore 64 game, where you piloted a tank that could lift off and transform into a plane. However, to fight the other planes, you had to ascend past cloud level, so it was actually pretty different. Nevertheless, tank that turned into a plane.
I just picked this up. Definitely feels Starfox-esque. Using the digital controls, they still feel a bit iffy at times. I like all the COLOR, it has some really striking visuals at times. Pretty good variety, even early on. Not really far enough in to say much more, yet.
So there's an option to completely eliminate the touch screen controls? I thought they sounded a bit awkward from the description and it's part of what held back my purchase but if the D pad or the 3DS's controls are better in this case, then I'll have to get this soon!
So I played some more, I like this game, but I'm not sure I'm down with the controls, even after switching to digital. It's really difficult to fluidly move around. Maybe it is supposed to be like that (you are, after all, using a tank, something that is not really known for easy movement) but I dunno. And I also am not always sure exactly where I'm being attacked from, the radar is a bit confusing and since the game is wireframe it's tough to tell enemies from the environment sometimes.
The warp sections are pretty cool, but I wish they were longer. Maybe they get longer later on? It's always frustrating for me when I like a certain type of gameplay in a game and it only comes around every once in awhile for 30 seconds or a minute at a time. I would like to see entire missions with that gameplay.
Just finished it now. Not sure if I ever really liked the controls (digital), but they worked. The game itself was pretty slick. Still wish the warp sections had more to them, but you can't get everything you want.
Pretty much still feel now how I did before, which is that it's a great game with some flaws.
One minor complaint, it appears that once you go to Earth there is no turning back, something that I can't recall if the game made evident. So there were some bonus missions I had wanted to do but didn't get to. It does let you continue on after you beat the end boss, but I sort of lost my motivation at this point, though I may go back and try out one or two of the more interesting sounding ones.