XDR: X-Dazedly-Ray (Genesis) review
"XDR stands for X-Dazedly-Ray. I couldn't have made that up if I tried. I mean, dazedly? What the hell is that all about? And I love how designers Unipac hyphenated the parts, as if that makes the whole somehow make sense. They would have done better to allow the three letters to keep their mystery! That would have afforded us the opportunity to discuss the possibility of the name's origin in clandestine instant messenger chatrooms, or else on shadowy, cultish internet boards dedicated to talking up bad shooters based solely on their obscurity! But Unipac ruined it for us. "
XDR stands for X-Dazedly-Ray. I couldn't have made that up if I tried. I mean, dazedly? What the hell is that all about? And I love how designers Unipac hyphenated the parts, as if that makes the whole somehow make sense. They would have done better to allow the three letters to keep their mystery! That would have afforded us the opportunity to discuss the possibility of the name's origin in clandestine instant messenger chatrooms, or else on shadowy, cultish internet boards dedicated to talking up bad shooters based solely on their obscurity! But Unipac ruined it for us.
And they were quite content to go on ruining things -- after all, there was still the actual game to think about! But you'll have to penetrate the thin veneer of standard shooter stencilling to discover the ruination. XDR is quick to tell us of its side-scroller shooter competence: it greasily presents six levels, three different weapons, on-the-fly speed adjustment, missiles as auxiliary weaponry, a shield stolen from Darius, and decidedly Gradius-esque bosses. You've clearly done your homework, XDR!
Unfortunately some lessons are best unlearned! You see, in keeping with the Darius and Gradius thievery, is the game's lack of balance. If you die in the first half of a level, you'll start from the beginning and have about half a chance of getting back into the thick of things. If you die in the second half of a level, you'll have to start from the midpoint -- so take that previous half a chance, and divide that in half. Games like this truly have split personalities. The amount of fun you can squeeze from them is a matter of life and death.
I can one-credit XDR and have a fairly enjoyable time, all things considered. But if I die during say, level four -- the obligatory meteor storm level -- a magnitude of hatred for the game that I didn't know existed within me suddenly bursts forth. You'll marvel at the poor programming: some checkpoints place you where you're almost going to crash into a wall, or where enemy guns are already angled to pin you down. Often, I learned that the best way to survive your hazardous resurrections is to take advantage of your short window of invincibility, jack up your speed to the fourth power and race through solid obstacles in an attempt to create for yourself a reasonably safe launch pad to begin your assault anew -- something the game could have easily provided you with.
Consequently, the key to success at XDR is not dying at all. This will sound funny, but the XDR artillery and technology provided you (which is admittedly uninspired) is more than up to the task of keeping you alive. You start off with the B weapon, which is just your basic pea shooter. Naturally, by murdering the right enemies, you can earn power ups to change that. Grabbing more B icons powers up that pea shooter until it's a spread. Or you could concentrate on collecting W icons, which give you a strange crisscrossing wave of purple and pink gumdrops -- more Ws means more and larger gumdrops. Or you could realize that both those weapons suck, and take the only legitimate weapon: the L, for laser. This one is straight out of Gradius; it's a pencil beam that goes through most anything, and powering it up increases its rate of fire.
Rounding out your arsenal are the aforementioned missiles and shield, and the satellites (used for bullet boosting and blocking!). In a fairly violent nod to Darius (it's almost like a headbutt, really), the missiles can be powered up so that they fire in four diagonal directions -- 2, 5, 7, and 10 o'clock. The head-banging continues with the shield, which is represented by a green film over your ship with warpy effects in a failed attempt at cool. The satellites (you can earn up to two) are immensely useful at augmenting your firepower and absorbing same from your foes. If only they didn't look so stupid: picture giant missiles of the same size as your ship. At frenzied moments you'll lose yourself in them and their merits will be lost in a haze of spit and curse words.
XDR is a breeze on easy and normal difficulty levels once you have a shield, a pair of satellites and a powered up laser. You can be so equipped by the end of level two. But if you make a mistake at any point after this, XDR can give you fits. Once I managed to get killed by the level two guardian and found it overly difficult and unfair to get decently equipped in order to arrive back at the boss (this is level two!). That balance thing again. Other nitpicks, such as how difficult it is to tell your satellites apart from your ship and enemy bullets apart from the backgrounds, only cause more deaths, and more reason to bitch and complain about -- yes, that balance thing again.
These gameplay flaws might be more easily endured if XDR was a slicker package. I mean, I've said that many Gradius and Darius games have demonstrated similar issues with crippling a resurrected player, but there still exist gems among those franchises. XDR is not a gem, but rather something else you might find in the dirt. The graphics remind me a lot of Aerial Assault for the Game Gear. You're saying: ''Game Gear, that old, 8-bit handheld system that sorta reeked?'' I'm saying: ''Yes, that's the one.'' Our short dialogue speaks volumes.
And perhaps even Aerial Assault's first level city skyline looked better than the similar scene opening XDR. After the ugly buildings, we are dragged into an ugly cave for level two, while the third stage introduces an almost indescribable scenario featuring gray in the background -- gray mountains perhaps, with a gray haze below that -- and yellow cyclopean columns secreting bullet spewing spheres in the foreground. It's a mess. Level four is one of the cheapest areas I've played in a shooter -- it's the one where meteors crash down on you without notice, and large dark aliens fly infuriating looping patterns to ensure that your meteor dodging is overly complicated. A fully powered up player should be wary here, because death in level four means having to claw your way desperately back to some semblance of craft competence.
And then: cue more Gradius ''inspiration'', because area five introduces the clichéd Life Force gaseous level, where plumes of blue flame erupt from both ceiling and floor. Somehow the pillars of gas transform into solid blue rocks and scatter about the screen giving you fits if you're unlucky enough to be ill-equipped. Finally, the sixth and final stage introduces a dark purplish look, tiny streaking ships, drill bits that threaten to screw you from the top and bottom of the screen, and mounted gunpods galore. This level is probably the only one that looks like it belongs in a Genesis, rather than a Game Gear game.
XDR's bad graphics aside, and we still have the game's bad sounds to come to grips with. Know that there are only about five tunes in the entire game. Levels one, two and three will each use different tracks, but then the same three are repeated in the same order to score levels four to six. The first level tune is also the title screen music, as well as the end music. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad if the orchestration (can we even call it that?) wasn't so feeble. The third and sixth level tunes in particular seem to have only one instrument going throughout. All the tracks have this high-pitched synthesizer instrument going, and at the most, another, synthesizer tone going as bare bones accompaniment. It's like watching a couple of first graders sing on stage at their Christmas pageant -- you feel their embarrassment, and it hurts your heart.
It's the kind of embarrassment someone might feel who hunted this game down based on the notion that because it's obscure, it might be some kind of treasure. Don't be that someone. You could download the ROM illegally for free, and still feel as though you were cheated out of something. When you play it carefully and manage to stay powered up throughout the whole contest, it is at its best. Even then, it's a short, easy, bland as bread horizontal with sad, unattractive sights and sounds. At its worst? Add frustrating to that already sorry description. The lesson? This is what happens when a group of X-programmers DAZEDLY set about making a shooter in one day for the producer's son, RAY. I just made that story up, but the message should still be clear and profound: everyone's time is wasted.
Staff review by Marc Golding (February 02, 2004)
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