By Kris . February 15, 2012 . 1:05pm
eXceed 2nd -Vampire REX seems to have been built from deep-seated hatred of Ikaruga’s environmental hazards. While the game borrows Ikaruga’s core polarity-switching mechanics, all of the careful navigation of Treasure’s title has been eschewed for more enemies and bullets.
This idea appealed to me as I first started playing the game’s demo, recently released by Nyu Media. The shifting, beam spraying environments in Ikaruga’s third level always frustrated me when I was younger, and so there were a number of times when I wished for a game just like eXceed 2nd.
eXceed 2nd draws its best mechanics directly from Ikaruga. Ria File, the young lady half-vampire that you pilot in eXceed, can switch between light (human) and dark (vampire) polarities. The dark polarity allows her to absorb any dark shots being fired at her and the light polarity does the same for light shots. Each standard enemy has a set polarity, and is weak to shots of the other. Every shot you absorb goes to fill a gauge that ultimately leads to a screen-clearing beam of death.
This polarity mechanic leads to some lovely risk-and-reward moments: do you stay in the midst of a wave of light bullets to charge your beam and potentially risk being hit by a sneaky dark bullet from another enemy, or do you try to dart in and out of that wave in the dark polarity and take out the enemy more quickly? Bosses will also use shot patterns that force you to weave in and out of streams of bullets while swapping polarities. Proper polarity switching simply feels good, and if you do it right for an extended period of time, you feel like a total badass.
Because the game pretty much removed the environmental aspects of Ikaruga, enemies and bullets fly onscreen in pretty conventional ways. Naturally, to balance out the lack of variety, eXceed just adds a ton of bullets to everything. While the speed of the bullets is pretty manageable on the lower difficulties, Rank 4 (“Exceed Difficulty”) requires some lighting fast polarity switching to survive (which I highly recommend at least trying, because live or die, it’s quite fun). There’s also a ranking system in place that switches the game’s difficulty on the fly. The longer you survive, the harder the game gets, but death will revert you to whatever difficulty you started out on.
However, despite the interesting mechanics at work, the demo didn’t feel like it had much variety. The four stages shared the same enemies, had nondescript backgrounds, and only really differed in terms of the bosses and the number of bullets and enemies that would fill the screen. While that’s fine, by the end of my time with the demo, I missed Ikaruga’s shifting levels and opportunities to play with the polarity mechanic.
I think that that’s my biggest criticism with eXceed 2nd – Vampire Rex. It doesn’t really have the creativity of the game that it’s imitating. While it’s interesting and enjoyable to play Ikaruga with a bit more bullet hell flavor, the game never really surprised me. It’s yet another doujin shooter in which all of the characters are little girls and disproportionate amounts of bullets are spewed from enemy ships.
That said, the lengthy four-stage demo is free on Nyu Media’s eXceed webpage, so if you’re curious, it’s definitely worth checking out: http://exceedseries.com/2nd-vampire-rex/download_2vr. eXceed 2nd – Vampire REX will be released for PC download on February 23rd, both as a standalone download or as part of the eXceed Collection.
Food for Thought:
1. While all of the bosses that you fight are young girls, the standard enemies are just dark or light ships. To be honest, that disconnect between standard and boss enemies kind of bummed me out, since the (optional) dialog in arcade mode seems to imply that the designers have a whole universe worked out. I just would have liked to have seen a bit more connection between the enemies, or perhaps even ships that looked a bit more vampiric or angelic.
2. If you play with dialogue on, the stage music cuts out at the most threatening parts of a boss’s speech and the (generally awesome) boss music kicks in. It’s a nice touch that gets you pumped for the battle.
3. You can safely run into enemies, regardless of your polarity. They’ll just push you around as they move. It’s fun, but I haven’t found a practical use for it yet.