"Enemies come at you fast, but luckily your laser beam has homing capabilities, so you needn’t even aim to bring them down. Being successful is more a function of edging forward gradually enough to bring the enemies onto the screen slowly enough for the beam to melt the bad guys before they reach your face."
Editor-in-chief, webmaster and supreme being Jason Venter knew that I was the perfect reviewer to tackle side-scrolling robot shooter Thexder Neo HD. He absolutely knew. Because I’ve become something of a shoot-em-up review expert.
Alright, fine, that’s B.S. Venter likely knew I was the only reviewer old enough to have been around at the time of the original Thexder’s release. Yup, I'm a relic. And yup, this is remake. Of a game from 1985. (This is vitally important, more on why, later.)
And as remakes go, it’s very faithful – a gift and a curse, but mostly a curse. The main gameplay mode shows off ‘classic’ Thexder gameplay with today’s snazzy graphics. Besides that, it naturally includes the original Thexder, which is a lovely thing. What is more lovely is that the original game is immediately available from the title screen – so its availability is not contingent upon your performing some time-consuming task in the new version to ‘unlock it’.
Thexder was kind of a big deal when it first came out in Japan, selling a trillion or some odd copies of its various iterations, before arriving stateside in NES and PC format among others, where it went on to sell another trillion. I actually played the PC version; I remember installing the 50 or so 5 ¼ floppies and having a go. I remember being suitably impressed.
This time ‘round, however; I was not impressed. Because Thexder’s greatest appeal is that you get to play a transforming robot.
Seriously, that’s the sell. And back in ’85, that was good enough. Just pulling off the transformation and letting loose the laser cannon was more than enough cool factor to keep you playing – who had seen anything like it before?
By now, we’ve seen a lot of games like it, and any one of those games (any Macross game, for example) is a lot more engaging. Thexder’s gameplay is exceedingly rudimentary: as a Gundam-esque robot, you run – mostly rightward – keeping your finger on the fire button, blasting waves of colourful shapes. That’s probably the best way to describe the enemies.
Enemies come at you fast, but luckily your laser beam has homing capabilities, so you needn’t even aim to bring them down. Being successful is more a function of edging forward gradually enough to bring the enemies onto the screen slowly enough for the beam to melt the bad guys before they reach your face.
Where Thexder remains unique, even today, is that all of this shooting occurs in a sort of maze, where some corridors are more narrow than others. It is in these tight spots where transforming to plane mode with the touch of a button, is useful to keep it moving – but at no other time. And that’s because once you change to plane mode, your craft won’t stop its forward motion (unless you turn around completely!). Which of course, goes directly contrary to Thexder’s Number One Rule for Success: which is to avoid barrelling forward.
If you’re interested in playing the original for nostalgia’s sake, or just because you favour the far uglier graphics, you need to know that the original Thexder is difficult. It only has ten levels, but it’s hard going by virtue of the fact that enemies absorb a lot of laser beam fire before falling, meaning they’ll be in your face draining your energy quite a bit. This is exacerbated by the fact that this is one of those games where just moving around drains your energy. THIS, in turn is exacerbated by the fact that this is one of those games where just SHOOTING drains your energy. Thankfully, the NEO version has an easier mode, which features the same enemies, but with less vitality.
And what update would be complete without exploring online multiplayer? I really wanted to test this mode, and I tried to. But the result was perhaps more telling than it would have been had I been successful – nobody was online playing this game! And... perhaps nobody offline is playing it either.
Staff review by Marc Golding (March 22, 2010)
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