Xenoraid looks like an old school shmup. In many ways, it even plays like an old school shmup. But when you jump in that ship and get a feel for the controls, you realize this game is about as modern as it gets. Once you get used to the ship swapping feature, the upgrade menus, and the clever co-op mode, you'll realize this game goes far beyond the usual shmup requirements and enters a realm all its own.
Xenoraid's set-up is one of alien invasions and galaxy protection, nothing too out of the ordinary for a sci-fi shooter. As the chosen heroes who are set to save the day, you'll control not one, not two, not eleven, but four ships at the same time. Don't worry, only one is ever on-screen at any given moment, but you can switch between them on the fly, opening up possibilities that extend well beyond the usual "shoot stuff fast" philosophy. For example, did your ship take a bit of damage? Switch to another one and keep on keepin' on.
The biggest bonus for the ship swapping mechanic is the ability to fill out your fleet with different styles of ships. Xenoraid comes with a robust tech upgrade and vehicle hangar menu you'll run across between levels. Repairing damage will be one of your main money drains, especially if you're careless out in the field, but you can also buy or upgrade weapons/defensive systems as well as manage ships on an individual basis. Big bombing ship not doing it for you? Sell it and see what else is in the shop.
There are two other big differences between Xenoraid and a regular shooter. The tilt shooting mechanic takes a minute to get used to, but once you do, it's the greatest thing ever. In short, your ship leans a little each time you move, shifting the guns off at a slight angle. It's great for taking out enemies that aren't just straight ahead, though you'll curse the mechanic for your first half hour of play. Resist the temptation to turn off fighter tilting in the options, it really is a handy feature you'll grow to love.
Also, you know how it's usually a good practice to hold the fire button down all the time? Can't do that in Xenoraid. Well, you can, but your guns will overheat and take a few moments to reset, leaving you vulnerable to, well, everything. Mitigating this is the ship swapping ability, but because that takes a moment or two to enact, you're basically better off not overheating at all. Ever. Play things strategically for once, ok?
Co-op is neatly laced into Xenoraid's modes, both survival and the regular campaign. Up to four people can join in local matches at once, each controlling one of the four ships in your squadron. The only catch is that each player doesn't have their own fleet of unseen ships. Four heroes total is all we've got. So, for example, if you and one friend are playing and they destroy their ship, they'll immediately take control of another, leaving the both of you with just one backup to share. That makes co-op a little more skill based than fun based, so choose your shooting partners carefully.
The co-op experience is notably different than the solo one, but not because the game makes any obvious structural changes. The simple addition of new players means strategies will shift, and in a game that's all about strategies, that's a big deal. Four player co-op is especially unique, as it almost starts to feel like a wild party game instead of good old Xenoraid.
One of Xenoraid's biggest strengths is that it lassos all of these seemingly complex features into a simple, experimental based set-up. It may sound overwhelming to think about armor upgrades, nuclear warheads and chainguns on your squadron builds, but the reality is you're better off trying things out that look cool, then adjusting as you go along. Xenoraid isn't about overwhelming you with stuff to shoot or bullets to dodge. It's about calculated moves carried out in a glorious old school arcade style way. Once you drop the "PRESS SHOOT TO WIN" mentality, the game really kicks off.
Variety is built into the core of Xenoraid. You've only got the two modes to experience, campaign and survival, but they supply a decent amount of content. Playing with ship builds and upgrades means higher replayability, but the procedural levels pulls that down a bit with some needless repetition. You won't find too many gimmicks or distraction elements like mini-games or crazy capture the flag modes or whatever. Xenoraid is all about the core experience, and it provides a solid and unique one from beginning to end, especially if you're looking for something with a little shooting action that isn't just about dodging a parade of bullets.