Hands-On With zX, An Awesome South African-Made Bullet Hell Indie Game
We South Africans are an enthusiastic bunch whenever it comes to promoting the work of one of our own, and with that said it gives me pleasure to talk about a game I stumbled on recently that is, in fact, South African-made. It’s a bullet hell game created by retroFuture, and so far only the demo has been released which you can download from the game’s official website, and I highly recommend that you do that. It’s seriously looking like it’s going to be an awesome game from what I’ve played so far.
In the game you’ll take control of a small ship fighting against all kinds of monstrous and robotic creatures, and it’s pretty much a bullet hell arcade shooter. Meaning, you’ll need to keep firing as much as you’ll need to dodge hundreds of incoming attacks. The game is all about recklessness, unrelenting action and furious, daredevil luck, and if you’re to play it, then expect to die. A lot. The demo allows you to play through 11 levels of the game, a few of which are tutorials. The full game will have 66 in total, of which 55 have already been developed. You’ll freely select which level you’d like to attempt by going into one of the portals in the main hub, and from there all hell will most certainly break loose.
The gameplay is simple yet really cool. You’re able to play the game either with the keyboard or a controller. You’ll control your ship with the directional keys, and use WASD for your actions. Firing left and right is governed by A and D respectively, while your twin-blade melee attack is activated by W, and S changes your firing mode. This is where the action gets pretty unique and tons of fun, because your firing mode really mixes things up. There are three different firing modes, namely green, blue and purple. Green is a standard, rapid fire energy blast that goes in a straight line. Blue is a triple spread shot that also has the ability to rebound off walls. Purple is homing bullets that can swerve around corners and hit enemies. You’ll be able to continuously swap between these three firing modes at any moment using the S key, and you’ll really need to think on your feet and act quickly to be prepared.
Enemies killed can either drop health or hyper energy, which fuels your hyper-gun. Killing a certain type of enemy drops power upgrades for you which, similarly to old-school arcade shooters, greatly enhances your firepower and bullet spread. It’s really cool that depending on which mode you had on at the time of collecting the power up, whether green, purple or blue, your firing will upgrade a little differently for each one. These power ups are pivotal to your survival, because some enemies can take a lot of punishment while being able to dish out just as much to you, so you’ll need all the help you can get to put them down. Just from the demo alone, it’s easy to tell that there is lots of variety in both enemy types and level design, with the environment often joining in to try and kill you. One level in the demo has lava continuously rising from below, while another has joint laser beams that move up and down and fire from opposite ends of the screen. This game is not at all easy to get through.
This game being described as “bullet hell” is completely right. While small enemies are relatively easy to deal with, some of the larger ones will chase you down and fire off dozens of bullets at you, forcing you to be evasive as much as you are offensive. The skill comes in the fact that firing your weapons greatly slows your mobility, so you need to know when to stop firing for those few seconds so you can move and dodge in time. The only issue I had with the game is that it can be quite difficult as you don’t seem to get checkpoints, but there’s no denying that it’s tons of fun to play right now, and if the full game can match the same level of quality, then hopefully we’re in for a real treat when it releases.
I completely love the visual style of this game. It’s retro-futuristic, and its vibrant and colourful with tons of variety and exciting things happening on-screen at any given moment. Levels look dramatically different, and it absolutely looks like a high quality game despite its old-school visuals. The animation is fluid and precise, and it’s really a joy to see everything in motion. The only small complaint I have is that there were one or two instances of the frame rate dropping, but hopefully the full game won’t have this issue. The audio is greatly satisfying as well, and it takes you right back to those good old days at the arcades with all those fun bullet hell games you most definitely used to play. This is certainly an old-school gamer’s game, and both the fantastic visuals and the sound reflect that right to the letter.
zX has great potential, and the fact that it’s made by a fellow South African makes me all the more excited for it to release, and hopeful that it’s great when it does. From what I’ve played so far, it’s a really fun and extremely well-made game, and I encourage all of you to download the demo and support it if you like it as well. If you like what you see after playing the demo, then you should vote it up on Steam Greenlight too. The full game is scheduled to release early this year.