1-4 player intense retro shmup. Classic 2D fixed gallery shooter. Features: Insane firepower, progressive defences, tons of power-ups. Smooth 60 frames per second, pure arcade action.
"!!! ONLINE SCOREBOARDS coming soon !!!"
Some nine months now since its January release have I seen this message flash each and every time I play Decimation X, Xona Game's first and only released Xbox Indie game after its long hyped and long delayed (two years and counting!) shooter Duality ZF has failed to materialize. Whether justified or not and for whatever reasons there may be, Xona Games (brothers Jason and Matthew Doucette) sure take its sweet time in regards to stated projects. Sometimes I think that Duality ZF needs to be shopped to Gearbox if we're to ever play it, and just the same I tend not to believe that the long promised on-line scoreboards for Decimation X will ever materialize. Normally a string of unfulfilled promises would sink most any developer, but Xona Games has some excellent shooting talent behind it, and if the releases continue to be as excellent as Decimation X, I'm sure everyone will be willing to wait.
Decimation X is a shooter in the vein of Space Invaders albeit with far, far more aggressive invaders than ever found in Taito's arcade classic. Oddly enough, Decimation X also makes for a far better and more faithful remake to Space Invaders than Taito's own Space Invaders Extreme, keeping to the theme of using destructible shields for cover while slaughtering wave upon wave of pixelated alien invaders. Decimation X allows for four players to partake in the shooting spree, each with its own default gray shield to use while taking down five descending rows of neverending enemies. Unlike the arcade original, the invaders here will cut through the shields like butter at higher levels, unleashing a hail of bullets which will penetrate through just about anything on screen. Fortunately for the player, it takes a few waves to work up to that point, giving the player's ship enough time to upgrade its firepower to stand a chance. Power-ups occasionally drop from defeated enemies which can do anything from awarding bonus points to restoring the shields to endowing the ship with more bullets. The shot number increases as by one when enough "P" icons are scooped up from the field; it'll take just one power-up to grant the ship a second shot but a third bullet will take two "P" icons, three for a fourth bullet, and so on. It's no surprise to have these tiny ships dishing out waves of laser death after a couple of dozen levels of upgrading their firepower, and the exaggerated retro destruction is a sight to behold.
Xona Games kept the graphics of Decimation X rather simple: the ships are glorified triangles, the shields husks of light gray with no discernible shape, and the enemies are a grab bag of pixelated shapes and other oddities which only serve as cannon fodder with no real sense of style or unity. Although the sheer variety of shapes used for the enemy waves is staggering, the real star of the show is the particle effects which shower the screen following destroyed enemies. The screen dances in color, and despite all of the dots and lines whizzing about the display, at no point does Decimation X result in visual overload. The white enemy shots are always clearly defined against the dark gray screen, and the players' own lasers are color coded same as the ships so that it's equally easy to spot which player is which. In a game of tiny ships and hundreds upon hundreds of lasers clogging up the screen, the retro styling does more than just ape the graphics of a bygone era but also manages to make this sort of gameplay possible where a more detailed setting would not. Individually, nothing about Decimation X's simplistic shapes and lack of detail would impress anyone, but to see it in motion is to understand this is how the game needs to be.
Backing up the graphics is the excellent soundtrack, itself just one lengthy ten minute song by Imphenzia, a varied soundscape of break beats and quiet moments which fit the action perfectly. Considering how long Decimation X can suck a player in playing, having an excellent soundtrack which avoids repetition is a key bonus for the game. Likewise, the game is as simple as they come -- press A to shoot and the D-pad or analog stick to move. Decimation X supports the arcade stick for an added bonus arcade feeling and even allows drop-in local multi-player (though any new player coming in is sure to be severely underpowered to stand a chance against later waves). The game is a perfect pick me up affair that's easy to jump in but hard to put down, and the action and fun to be had make Decimation X well worth a purchase even though the game holds nothing from the trial period. While I wish the overall strategy for success offered more than just sweeping through the mob with lasers, the ridiculous hordes of enemy shots keep the experience frantic and exciting to the end.
I do wish that the game were better balanced for its multi-player options and offered more options in general. While it's great to see the option offered, multiple ships enhance the firepower and can easily dispatch of most enemies making the game a breeze a la Giga Wing 2. Icon showers ensure that all ships are fully stocked with no penalty for the number of players firing away, and the enemies never receive any kind of bonus to give the invaders a chance against those odds. I also would liked to have seen something done regarding to players dropping into the game being so underpowered. While I can see why this was done to ensure that people don't take advantage of a new ship's extra life stock, I wish there were at least the option to allow for accumulated power-ups to be shared such that the original player is made less powerful to allow the new one join while helping out the recently joined teammate. I would have also liked to have seen an option to both expand the view of the permanently windowed screen as well as turn off the pause when a new ship slides along to replace a recently destroyed player. Finally, as noted in the beginning, Decimation X is an arcade, high scoring game and would be ideal for on-line leaderboards, something the game has been acutely aware of but have yet to address. I hear it's coming soon.
The greatest appeal that Xbox Live Indie Games holds over people unfamiliar with the service is the existence of fun, inexpensive games. The quarter I would have spent on Space Invaders in 1977 would now accounting for inflation cost me about 90 cents, the approximate cost of Decimation X. The game is well worth that as Decimation X does it part in keeping the arcade spirit alive on Xbox Live, and fans of shooters and retro action would be wise to check it out if they've not done so already.