Developer: Triangle Service
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed)
Release Date: June 5, 2015
MSRP: $11.99 (Review Copy Received)
XIIZEAL (pronounced: ‘twelze zeal’) is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up game developed by Triangle Service and published by Degica. The game was known as XII Stag in the arcades and on PlayStation 2 but all subsequent ports used the name XIIZEAL, probably to create an association between it and Triangle Service’s more recent and more popular Trizeal and Exzeal shooters.
Like Deltazeal, the game was released for Xbox 360 on Shooting Love 10 Shuunen compilation and the PC version is basically the same as the one for Microsoft’s console. The port has the exact same issues as the PC release of Deltazeal too – the interface was designed with the 360 controller in mind and keyboard support is done very lazily by mapping keyboard keys to the 360 keys. It seems that the developers of PC versions of Deltazeal and XIIZEAL actually ported Shooting Love 10 Shuunen and its parts are simply sold separately.
Also like Deltazeal, XIIZEAL might not be extremely hard for shmup standards but is very unforgiving. While the scoring system here might give the player more room for error, the players once again have no way of getting additional lives, either from item drops or from reaching certain scores. Once again, I’m not entirely sure what I think of this move – it does create a strong distinction between playing for score and playing for survival but it also doesn’t give any gameplay-related reward for mastering the game which might turn some players off and makes scoring something that only the experts will concern themselves with.
XIIZEAL is designed around an interesting gameplay gimmick: the ability to attack in all directions. Players have access to a standard shot which will destroy the enemies in front of the ship and the ship’s exhaust automatically damages everything that gets too close from behind (be careful with that though – stronger enemies can survive long enough to connect with your hitbox). The most powerful weapon in the player’s arsenal is a side attack which obliterates most of the non-boss enemies in a single hit, but it’s also the trickiest to use properly.
Moving very slightly to the left or right will make the player’s ship spin and do a side attack in that direction – thus, to keep attacking it is necessary to make very slight alternate left and right movements. Unlike Deltazeal, the whole game is designed around the gimmick: the enemies will attack from all sides of the screen, forcing the players to utilize their whole arsenal to stay alive.
The side attack mechanic is a cool idea, unfortunately it’s clearly not designed with keyboard in mind as it all but requires precise analog input to work properly. The Xbox 360 pad is a better choice but it’s also far from perfect, as is any other console controller. XIIZEAL is a game that is meant to be played with an arcade stick – something larger than the analog components of gamepads and better at registering small movements. To those without such a controller, the game allows rapid side attacks by holding down a button but it kind of defeats the purpose – wiggling an arcade stick without moving when you don’t want to move requires more skill than pressing ‘V’ (default rapid side attack key) on the keyboard.
Scoring in XIIZEAL is fairly simple: the number of points received for destroying the enemies is multiplied by the counter which increases when hitting the enemies with the side attack or with your exhaust. The maximum multiplier value is twelve and it doesn’t decrease too fast so the game is not too strict about your combos (especially when compared to chaining mechanics found in Cave shmups) but it’s still pretty hard. You need to get close to the enemies (yes, it is a shmup where ‘melee range’ is an actual thing), you need to know how to use side attack properly and how not to get killed while using your exhaust and you should be aware of the enemy placement. It’s of course much easier when you can just use rapid side attacks.
Score can also be improved by cancelling enemy attacks with your bomb. The range of your bomb is quite limited so positioning it correctly is necessary. The bomb can also be used to save yourself from tough situations – as long as you stay within its range, the bullets can’t harm you. Bomb as a scoring method is viable mostly during the boss fights but you do get quite a lot of them so even when going for a high score it’s better to use it when enemy attacks get hectic (keep in mind that it’s not a bullet hell game and you have quite a large hitbox so ‘hectic’ does not require the whole screen to be covered with projectiles) – especially given that there are no extends.
After completing each level, the game shows you a graph comparing your score at each of its checkpoints to that of the current #1 in the high scores table. It’s a nice feature as it allows you to see where you’re doing well and where is the place for improvement.
While the level design is one of XIIZEAL’s strengths, the level progression seems a bit questionable as the game’s difficulty curve is very uneven. Level 3 and its boss have a massive spike in difficulty (at the moment, I usually lose at least one life there) but the subsequent stage is much easier, comparable to level 2. In fact, the difficulty picks up again only when you reach the boss of level 5. It’s a strange roadblock, as if the game’s third stage was supposed to be a warning about the difficulty of the endgame.
Visually, XIIZEAL is average. The graphics are rather uninspired but they’re serviceable and almost never get in the way of gameplay. One issue I found is that when boss explosion is triggered, its attacks are not cancelled immediately and they might blend in with the explosion itself; this can be extremely annoying as you die after defeating the boss.
Both the environments and the enemies are standard shmup fare: you fight against planes, missiles, tanks, mechas, asteroids, and occasional weird biological things (complete with giant lungs and a heart underneath them as a final boss) over mountains, clouds, towns and space stations. It’s never outright bad but it’s all pretty forgettable.
The soundtrack to XIIZEAL is very good. The music consists of catchy, fast-paced electronic songs which are consistently high quality. The sound effects are mostly nothing special but when you get in rhythm with your side attacks it punctuates the music very well – provided you turn the sound effect volume about halfway as they often drown out the music on the default settings.
XIIZEAL is a good shooter but not a great one. It’s a challenging game with an interesting gimmick that makes it stand out from the crowd a bit but it lacks the design and the visuals to become a classic.
While it’s generally better than Deltazeal, it’s also a game which will appeal more to the genre veterans than to the newcomers. Once again, the quality of the PC port will not do much to bring new players to the genre.
XIIZEAL was reviewed on PC using a review code provided by Degica. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7
- Side attack gimmick adds some depth and originality to the game
- Good level design
- Catchy music
- Uninspired visuals
- Lazy porting
- Requires an arcade stick to be properly enjoyed