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XG Blast!

They’re onto us. Our deepest, most powerful secrets are close to being unearthed. We must stop this now. Years of hard work and dedication may be rendered worthless within a matter of minutes. It’s time to suit up and ignite our best hope of survival. Stand back, sit down, do whatever you need to stay put. Ladies and gentlemen of Aknathen, it’s time to settle this. It’s time to launch XG Blast!

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After detecting an energy spectrum that mimics the signal from the aforementioned prototype weapon, you could forgive the crew members of Aknathen for heading towards the familiar yet uncharted territory. They couldn’t see it coming, even if it was common sense. A black hole was merely a myth before they left the comfortable state of Earth, now they face the harsh reality and catastrophic effects that this phenomenon brings with a single, darkness-devouring gulp.

Despite its premise, the previously described narrative is tremendously less exciting than you’d wish during XG Blast! Presented through brief top-screen storyboards, you’ll be hammering past the text as quickly as possible in order to get onto the good stuff: the intergalactic space battles. With that said, it would have been difficult to present an engaging storyline alongside gameplay that amounts to a largely simplistic and obscenely copycat formula.

“You’ll be hammering past the text as quickly as possible in order to get onto the good stuff: the intergalactic space battles”For fans of Geometry Wars, you may feel a heavy case of deja-vu loom across your confused mind when turning this on. Astonishingly, XG not only flatters the fan-favourite Live Arcade and newly formed DS series, it nigh on mimics the familiarity of the design and makes minor tweaks in a bid to hide it’s adoring blushes.

Luckily for XG, it does offer a great challenge to anyone familiar with this style of gameplay, let alone newcomers. As you use the d-pad to move your ship and the opposite buttons to fire towards the corresponding angles, you’ll quickly learn the methods needed to succeed (or at least, get close to succeeding). By combining two firing buttons together, you’ll be able to hit the swarm of enemies that evade the simplest of shots, as you can pinpoint any threat across all angles. This simplistic control scheme becomes natural instantly, as the game falls into the ever-growing list of insanely addictive DS titles.

“The game falls into the ever-growing list of insanely addictive DS titles”What’s hugely noticeable about XG is that it makes little attempt to conceal it’s inspiration from arcade titles such as Geometry Wars. As a measure of the series’ success, even some of the enemy designs look identical to the pioneer of the modern grid-based shooter. Starting off relatively easy and reckless, the difficulty quickly ramps up, as you’ll be faced with enemies that fail to idly sit still waiting for your appearance. Before long, they will rapidly begin to attack you in large groups with kamikaze tactics and total destruction in mind.

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In order to combat this resistance, you’ll find a large number of weapon types to collect. Interestingly, these usually appear at the start of a level, meaning you must make a conscious choice of the style of gun that best suits your tactics and the layout of the section you are covering. As levels vary from simplistic rhombuses to isolating ‘X’ shaped layouts, your choice of firepower is often vital to the amount of success you gain. Do you pick a gun that disperses shots across a wide arc but only at close range, or a laser that shoots straight and is prone to bouncing off walls? Furthermore, you’re equipped with the infamous ‘XG Blast’ cannon for when proceedings get particularly tough, as it’ll wipe out an entire screen within split seconds. Offering either a devilishly accurate lightning bolt towards enemies or a ground-shifting earthquake, you’ll find yourself relishing in the marvel that vibrantly caresses the bottom screen. It’s the decisions on offer here that give the game some depth amongst the blatantly apparent comparisons it’ll draw to Geometry Wars, as it tries hard to separate itself from those pesky accusations.

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As you come to the final section of each zone, you’ll quickly find yourself facing a host of tough bosses. These appear in the form of neon-wearing representations of creatures from Earth, such as giant worms or excellently animated octopuses. While entertaining for the first time, these bosses become ridiculously tough to overpower towards the final stages of the game. You’ll no doubt turn the game off in disgust, citing that you’ll never beat it, only to return half an hour later refreshed and ready to go again. Unfortunately, once your handful of ships are squashed, you have to return to the beginning of the last zone you unlocked, meaning many may give up before this title hits it’s true stride.

“You’ll no doubt turn the game off in disgust, citing that you’ll never beat it, only to return half an hour later”Oddly, as all the action takes place on the lower DS screen, you’ll hardly ever find a use for the top, even if it does display a map of your enemies. Threats are heavily congested, and there is never a point where you have to refer to your map in order to seek out a hidden foe. As bouts are intensely fast-paced past the second zone, the top screen will only ever appear useful when judging how much energy your ship holds, and how much XG Blast you still have left cooking in the oven.

At the time of writing, we weren’t able to try the multiplayer section of the game out. With at least two modes confirmed, there’s no doubt this game will offer a quick blast of fun alongside friends. Offering ‘Double Dream Co-op’ and ‘Full War’ death matches, it seems XG Blast may offer an extra snippet of longevity for those who succumbed to the difficulty of the single-player.

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With lively graphics and a real pick-up-and-play attitude, XG Blast is an entertainingly addictive game. Rising Star have obviously done their homework, and have almost photocopied the cleverer kid from next door’s project, but they just about manage to get away with it. In an expanding genre, it’ll remain to be seen whether or not the publisher will be able to make a series out of this one. XG Blast is a narrative short of full-engagement, and may need a few tweaks with regards to difficulty and enemy design to be deemed original. With that said, it’s an extremely playable if slightly generic arcade style shoot ‘em up that you can stick on in the spare minutes across a busy day.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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