XG Blast! DS
Published by: Rising Star Games
Developed by: Next Wave Team
XG Blast is an arcade blaster that makes good use of the touch screen capabilities of the Nintendo DS. The game features two single-player modes, Discovery and Survival, as well as two Multiplayer modes for two to four players. It's a game that's going to draw instant comparisons with Geometry Wars: Galaxies for both the way it looks and the way it plays. In fact if you've played GW: Galaxies you'll know pretty much know what to expect from XG Blast although there are some minor differences.
There is a storyline here but it's nothing to get excited about. You'll control an experimental spaceship known as the Aknathen and take on a plethora of alien spacecraft with an assortment of boss battles too. You'll fight in a variety of confined areas (known as arenas), moving around with the directional pad and firing at the enemy spacecrafts with either the A, B, X and Y buttons (firing in eight possible directions) or by using the stylus to aim your shots. You'll use the L and R buttons to use your gravitational shield and fire your XG Blast weapon. Both the XG Blast and the shield are extremely useful in helping you to get rid of many enemies at once but they both draw on your supply of gravitational energy so it's wise to only use the shield and XG Blast when things are getting too close for comfort. You can collect gems to replenish your gravitational energy. There are also a variety of coloured pills you can collect which will give you temporary use of weapon upgrades.
In the game's Discovery mode you'll find your way through a variety of zones. In each zone there are multiple arenas in which you must battle against swarms of enemies. To complete a zone you must reach the boss arena (there are branching pathways through the zones) and defeat the boss that awaits you. On clearing a zone you'll unlock the next one. It's worth noting that you have a certain number of ships (lives) to clear the zone. If you run out of lives it's game over. Thankfully the game does automatically save your progress. Survival mode allows you to revisit any unlocked zones and play any arena that you've previously cleared. As the name would suggest, Survival mode is about trying to survive as long as possible and trying to beat your previous high score.
The game features two multiplayer modes although it wasn't possible to actually play these as you need a copy of the game for each player. Double Dream allows two players to team up and fight co-operatively against the alien enemies. Full War supports up to four players and allows you to compete against your friends in a Deathmatch game. You'll lose a point every time your ship is destroyed. Each arena has a time limit and a score limit. The first to reach the score wins but should the time run out the player with the highest score will win. Whilst it's impossible to comment on how these two games play without having played them, it just remains to say that it's shame you can't experience any multiplayer action with just a single copy of the game.
As we've already mentioned, the game is very similar to Geometry Wars: Galaxies and it's pretty much guaranteed that if you enjoyed that game then you're going to appreciate what XG Blast has to offer. The one problem that the game has is its difficulty level. Those expecting the game to gradually increase in difficulty as you play through the various zones and its arenas will be frustrated somewhat by the unevenness in the game. Some arenas and boss fights seem much more difficult than the challenges that precede and succeed them meaning there will be times when you feel that you've been stopped dead in your tracks only to eventually overcome the difficulty and then find that the next arena seems much easier. Some may not be bothered by this but personally I found it irritating.
There's nothing fancy about the game's presentation but in truth there doesn't need to be. You won't find any elaborate cutscenes here. An assortment of still images accompany the narrative and whilst this is a little disappointing it's certainly not a problem. The game features the customary top-down perspective that these games have. The graphics are fairly simple but when the action heats up there are some rather impressive visual effects on display and the whole effect is quite hypnotic. The DS copes well with the hectic action and the frame rate remains smooth throughout.
XG Blast won't cause any problems for deaf gamers. The game's storyline, told through a series of journal entries, is delivered exclusively via text. You'll move the narrative forward so you'll get to read the text at your own pace. There are no real problems during the main game. The top screen shows the level of gravitational energy you have left along with the amount of spacecraft/lives you have remaining. You'll also see an energy bar which shows you the condition of your current spacecraft. The action plays out on the touch-screen and here the game displays warning messages and shows the scores you've earned when you've defeated enemies amongst other things.
Those who like their arcade blasters will find enough in XG Blast to warrant a purchase. Likewise those who like their Geometry Wars and who are looking for a similar experience will definitely appreciate what this game has to offer. On the whole it's a solid enough game and it's quite an addictive experience which can be a little frustrating at times thanks to the difficulty level rising sharply at times. It's a shame that the multiplayer options don't support single-card play but I suspect that most will be interested in the game for its fast paced, and often very challenging, single-player action.