Peanut butter and chocolate. Rock and roll. Ebony and ivory. Those are just a few of the best unexpected pairings in the history of mankind. Now, we have a new pairing that looks to join that pantheon of greatness: dungeon crawler and twin-stick shooter. That unlikely combination is one that Brain Slap Studios’ tries to pull of in Hexodius.
In Hexodius, you are B.O.B, a robot probe who can basically only do two things: move and kill. B.O.B was created by a different, smaller robot named Fred. Before the start of the game, Fred explains that a fuse in the main AI has blown, causing it to go mad. This rogue AI has destroyed the main lab and may cause even more chaos if Fred and B.O.B don’t put it down. Since his creator is practically useless, B.O.B is tasked with traveling between dimensions, destroying the absurd amount of enemies the AI spawns and ultimately, saving the day. If this summary doesn’t sound particularly exciting to you, that would be because it is not. The storyline here is forgettable at best and irritating at worst. It’s a superfluous addition and I found myself mashing “A” anytime I would see a dialogue box pop up.
If you are at all familiar with the twin-stick shooter genre, you probably already know how Hexodius plays. Using the left and right analog sticks, you move and shoot with B.O.B. Different powerups that are acquired throughout the game are also applied to the triggers and bumpers on your controller. These boosts fall into two categories: ship or weapon upgrades. Ship upgrades include your typical speed or power boost for your bullets and weapon upgrades include the likes of remote mines and automatic turrets. They are definitely not the most original set of upgrades ever, but at least Brain Slap Studios is allowing gamers to customize B.O.B to suit their specific strategies.
There are six total dimensions for B.O.B and Fred to travel through and each one carries its own specific theme (jungle, arctic, etc.) Basically, Brian Slap took every platformer level cliche and just adapted it to suit a twin-stick shooter. Besides looking different, each dimension also comes with unique enemies. Certain enemies show up throughout the game, but a few of them, such as a butterfly that carries a frustrating herky jerky motion and a fiery beetle, only show up in their specific area.
Upon transporting into a new dimension, the area is divided into a hexagonal grid. As B.O.B, you travel around this area and can either enter an action stage or if you need to, you can enter a shop to purchase upgrades or a repair shop in order to save. The action stages are, however, annoyingly only split into three different types. Survival tasks you with surviving a wave of enemies, defend has you defending Fred as he fixes a transporter and destroy has you destroying a multitude of generators.
Besides making it out alive, another important component of these stages is making sure you get a high completion grade. Completion grades run the gamut from no grade at all, which signifies that you just made it out with your life, to an ‘S’ grade which implies that you dominated the area. The trick to boosting your grade, aside from not getting hit, is to collect the batteries that each defeated enemy drops. Similar to how fellow twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved plays, these droppings help power your upgrades and help you do better on each stage.
Hexodius also gives bonus points to gamers who can finish these stages with style. For example, blowing up a single enemy with a mine won’t net you a ton of points. But blowing up several enemies at once? That will certainly help your grade. Besides a sense of accomplishment from mastering a stage, the higher the grade you get, the more coins you get.
In addition to those three basic modes, there are two other gameplay areas in each dimension. The first one to come up is a timed race featuring Fred. As Fred, you must race through a series of hazards such as buzz saws and laser grids in order to retrieve different sized batteries. The more batteries you retrieve in the allotted time, the more money you get for upgrades. While these are quite different from the typical areas, I found them more frustrating than they are worth.
At the end of every dimension, B.O.B will have to go toe to toe with a boss. These boss battles are a refreshing change of pace from the typical stages and are probably the best part of each dimension. Each of the bosses is creative in their own right as well, with an early one being an homage to Space Invaders and another involving a giant spinning wheel that shoots flames and lasers at you repeatedly.
My major issue with Hexodius is that it never really commits to its own gameplay gimmick. The title is billed as dungeon crawler meets twin-stick shooter, but the first part of that combination is lacking. If Brain Slap Studios considers moving around a hexagonal grid and selecting which levels you wish to travel to as a dungeon crawler, then I really don’t know what to say. It’s a glorified level screen at best and even worse, every time you are transported back to these areas, it breaks up any type of pace the game may have been building up. It’s just hard for me to understand why you would call a game something it so clearly isn’t.
Another major criticism I have with the game is that aesthetically, Hexodius just doesn’t cut it. The enemy designs are mostly boring, as is the design of both B.O.B and Fred. They are your basic, generic robots and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in countless other titles. Although each dimension has a different theme, they way they are laid out is basically the same all the way through. Instead of a boring metal area for instance, you will instead be in a boring jungle area. The soundtrack of the game is not particularly engaging either. I find that a solid soundtrack can really help the player get into the game but hat never happens here, as the backing music is mostly a non-factor.
I hate to use this comparison, but it’s hard to recommend Hexodius over a fellow twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. That game still boasts some of the more bombastic graphics on the Xbox 360 and has managed to remain fun in the years since its release. Hexodius, on the other hand, with its generic design and poorly implemented mash-up of genres, will likely be forgotten by the end of 2013.
The review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
As competent as it needs to be, Hexodius never does enough to stand out from the rest of the twin-stick shooters in the genre. That, combined with a tacked-on "dungeon crawler" mode and a lame story, make the title one of the more forgettable affairs of 2013.