Once upon a time, there was a place where gamers could go to meet up, play together, and learn about the latest in the industry. It was called the arcade, and it was a magical spot of sacred ground for nerds in every mall from Whitehorse to Key West. Before the Internet, this was literally the only place where you could go to be yourself without being judged by the mainstream. It was also here that two game genres ruled: Fighters and Shmups.
The best of both genres have generally come from Japan, which to this day contains massive arcades filled with gamers. Because of the still-thriving arcade culture there, Japanese developers are at the forefront of the ‘Bullet Hell’ Shmup genre, and it is from this creative pool where the eXceed series comes. This series consists of three Dojin games: Gun Bullet Children, Vampire REX, and Jade Penetrate Black Package. The games were originally released between 2005 and 2007 and are now available in North America as a package (or individually). As for the question of how they stack up, read on to find out.
Each eXceed title is generally similar in terms of its aesthetic and basic controls. There are however some critical differences in specific gameplay areas which distinguish one iteration from another. The first game, Gun Bullet Children, is a standard Bullet-Hell shooter in which your ‘power attack’ meter charges as you ‘graze’ against passing enemy bullets. Once it’s charged, you have the ability to slow the game down a bit to give you a chance to breathe. Over time, your character (from which you have three to choose) levels up and becomes more powerful.
It’s pretty meat-and-potatoes stuff, but there is one problem with GBC that kind of sinks it. The game is very slow paced. The transition between enemy groupings can take up to 10 seconds, which is nice in that it allows you to catch your breath but it makes things drag. Also, it takes FOREVER to get your character powered up to a level in which you aren’t just shooting a piddly gun. Thankfully, these issues are not present with the other two titles in the collection.
The second title, Vampire REX, is …well… it’s an Ikaruga clone. It uses the exact same polarity mechanic as Treasure’s masterpiece, which may sound like an insult, but it actually does a pretty decent job of it. VR’s controls are silky smooth and responsive to sudden polarity changes. What it lacks in originality and elegance, it more than makes up for in challenge and fun.
The final title in this collection is called (where DO they come up with these names anyway?) Jade Penetrate Black Package. In many ways, it feels like a remake of the first eXceed game, as it returns to the standard mechanic of ‘avoid/graze pearl necklaces of bullets and destroy enemies’. Some of the backgrounds even look the same. What sets JPBP apart from GBC however is that it fixes the framerate issues and scraps the Levelling Up nonsense from the first installment. Instead, your character acquires Mini-Tiamats, little side gunners, that fight alongside you. As you progress, you gain more and more which allows you to stack or spread your fire.
It probably goes without saying, but these games are HARD. They will offer a significant challenge to all but the most hardcore of twitch gamers. While the difficulty level can be daunting, all three games are fair in that they will reward a steady hand and icy nerves.
[+Responsive controls] [+Rock-solid gameplay mechanics] [*Nothing terribly original gameplay-wise] [*Extremely difficult game, not for everyone] [-Slow power-up system in GBC]
Normally I start this section with some words about story, so here goes. There is an overall story arc in the eXceed games having to do with vampires trying to take over the world and schoolgirls (who else) acquiring powers to fight them. Later, vampires and humans are fighting against the genocidal impulses of a Church-based group who….do I really need to go on? Long story short, the story is ridiculous. Does it matter? Hell, no! This is a Shmup!
One characteristic of Dojin games is that they are generally made using existing assets and lower-end gear. In spite of this, this series manages to look pretty nice. The character models in eXceed look colorful and crisp, and the bullet/enemy models are very nicely done. It is absolutely awe-inspiring to see a screen filled with bullets flying in all directions. That said, the overall graphical design of the game world isn’t particularly inspired…’bland’ is a word that comes to mind. It’s not super-critical however, as this style of game doesn’t afford time to gawk around, but it would have been nice to see a little more attention paid to really make the visuals pop. While the visual quality of these games are not ‘A’ level, the audio most certainly is. All three titles have outstanding and memorable soundtracks that stand up to repeated playthroughs.
[+Nice, clear visuals] [+Bullet-filled screens are stunning to behold] [+Amazing soundtrack] [*Story is WTF] [-Environments are bland]
The whole package costs $10, and the individual breakdown is $3 for GBC and $6 each for the other two titles. As individual games, the price is certainly right for any fan of the Bullet-Hell genre. Even though it is priced cheaply, GBC is still a pretty skippable title. I’d still recommend the package though as it’s always a better deal to get three games for $10 than two for $12, even if the third is kind of ‘meh’.
The appeal of games like this is not just in beating the final boss (although just getting there is a chore to be sure), but in getting high scores, nailing chain attacks, and taking down enemies as stylishly as possible.
[+3 games for $10] [+Can be purchased individually] [+Plenty of replay value for ‘perfect run’ types]
There’s nothing quite like a good Shmup for blowing off steam. It’s challenging, unpretentious fun that does not place great demands on your time. All three titles in the eXceed Collection are definitely worth playing, but it is the latter two titles in the collection which are definitely the ones that stand up to the test of time. Aside from some minor issues, the eXceed Collection provides a great Shmup experience for PC gamers.
One last thing: Good luck. Seriously.
[+Responsive controls] [+Rock-solid gameplay mechanics] [+Nice, clear visuals] [+Bullet-filled screens are stunning to behold] [+Amazing soundtrack] [+3 games for $10] [+Can be purchased individually] [+Plenty of replay value for ‘perfect run’ types] [*Nothing terribly original gameplay-wise] [*Extremely difficult game, not for everyone] [*Story is WTF] [-Slow power-up system in GBC] [-Environments are bland]