Xenon Valkyrie + is a retro style roguelike from developer Diabolical Mind that has come out at a time where there is more than a generous helping of titles proudly embracing their classic gaming origins. The question then becomes, is this game one that stands out from it competition and ultimately deserves your hours of sci-fi themed exploration?
Beginning with the presentation, I wish that I could say that these graphics were great because I really did enjoy them for the most part. There was good use of diversity in the environments, the various weapons and attacks were well animated and the enemy design really fit the bill for what they were going for. Unfortunately, it was all dragged down by one major misstep when it came to a vital design decision. The character sprites were way too small. There was more than one occasion where I would lose my avatar in what was going on around it. Explosions, traps and even the text that popped up to inform me that I had gained a level caused me to take unneeded damaged due to obstructing my view.
In regards to handling, I was initially disappointed with the controls as they seemed somewhat stiff and not nearly as responsive as I would have wanted. Quite a few times I found myself swinging at empty air because the character didn’t register the request to turn around before attacking. Now that I have put a good dozen hours into the title however, that feeling of not being in control is a distant memory. I am able to complete multiple levels in a row with my character pulling off the wall jumps, grenade throws and melee attacks in game exactly the way that I intend for them to be in my mind.
Getting back to the characters, there are three to choose from when starting the game. All of which have different starting items and one unique ability they can use infinitely. For beginners, I personally recommend Nue whose angel boots allow for high jumps that can make backtracking in exploration when starting out amazingly easier. Every character also begins with different stat allocation between HP, ammo capacity, speed, strength and defense. These should have little to no factor in your decision on who to play as once you start defeating enemies and gaining experience it would only take one or two levels to balance them all out and build the character as you see fit.
Leveling up between acts isn’t the only way to customize your character; there is a lot of different gear that can also be obtained. As you traverse the levels you will often come across a treasure chest that will house a random ranged or melee weapon from an available pool. In order to access them you will have to continue to explore until you stumble upon a larger mini boss type enemy whose defeat will provide you with a key. Just be prepared for frustration with how random it can be since there will be occasions where you fought hard to access a treasure chest only for it to yield a weapon that has lower stats than even what you started with.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, know that there is one other type of chest that you can access without needing a key. It just requires you to beat a boss to gain access to it, that’s all. These chests will not have weapons but rather stat increases and additional accessories like for example a ring that has a chance upon defeating an enemy to leech a health point or a fire shield that will bounce some damage back to your attacker when you get hit.
A note on the boss fights themselves. You will be met with one at the end of each two level zone. This seems to be one of the few places where the random factor isn’t very detrimental as there will only be two potential bosses per environment and therefore won’t take long before you have done enough runs to know the patterns and strategies for each. The fights themselves are entertaining and allow for a nice feeling of accomplishment to break the pattern of traversing down a level simply gathering money and experience.
Additionally, progression needs to be addressed as this is a roguelike and getting used to losing everything upon death is a necessary mentality. There is a currency that can be gained called Teamerite, which unlike the money obtained in a run that is used at a shop between missions to replenish supplies, stays with your character even when you are defeated. It can then be used back at the initial camp to buy powerful weapons. The deflating part of this system is that you don’t actually get to wield these weapons upon purchasing them but rather you simply add them to the potential pool of items so that they may come across them when opening a treasure chest.
The other type of permanent progression is just as disappointing. There are intervals at which you can unlock portals to skip portions of the game on subsequent runs. Using one will grant you a number of skill points to level your character based on how far you jump. The issue here is that you will still only have your starting weapons and no additional items which will put you at enough of a disadvantage that you will probably die fast enough to not make it worth even jumping ahead.
With all of these factors in mind and the random nature of the zone generation which will often see entire areas of a level generated that are unfair or unreachable, you will quickly realize where all the challenge comes from in this game, how random it is. More should have been done to balance this out as starting a run with a bad early weapon drop or lack of money to regain health at a checkpoint will make you feel like you are better off hitting restart.
All things considered, I found myself having fun with this title. Sure I didn’t feel the same compulsory need to start a new run right after dying to see if I could get just that little bit further like in a game such as Rogue Legacy or A Robot Named Fight but after an hour or maybe even a day I did find myself wanting to dive back in and challenge myself again. A special note should be made that this game would definitely find its home a bit better on the portable vita version that clearly lends itself better to the short bursts of gameplay that go hand in hand with the one more run mentality.