This is a rare event, where I actually get to write about a new arcade title before many people have played it.  NG:Dev run by brothers RHE and THE have been around for a while now, making games for the ageing Neo-Geo platform, as well as ports to the equally defunct Dreamcast.  There’s obviously a market for it too, since many NG collectors have more money than sense, and many Dreamcast owners are die-hard fans.  If you want their cart releases, you’re looking at 300-400 euros, the price you have to pay for such a niche physical product.

To date, they’ve released Last Hope (and the far superior Pink Bullets revision), Fast Striker and Gunlord.  Last week they started shipping their newest title, NEO XYX (based on a PC title simply called XYX).

NEO XYX brings a few new things to the table though which haven’t been seen in their previous games.  First, the graphics are more in the Japanese arcade style, less of the heavy shading from previous games.  Secondly, the game is primarily designed to be played in vertical aspect – a first for the Neo Geo platform some 23 years after it first appeared.  This led to a little grumbling from fans, since dedicated Neo Geo cabinets are fixed horizontal, so they’ve also included a mode which rotates the text and controls so the game can be played sideways, although it felt a bit strange to me.

The graphics in this latest title are by Rozyrg, and they look amazing.  Everything is pixel drawn, it’s colourful, it’s well designed, it’s clean, the enemies look alive and feature great animation.  The game also moves at a pretty solid 60 frames per second as you’d expect, with only occasional frame drops and some sprite tearing when the hardware is overloaded (only when bombing a very busy screen or during end of stage explosion fields).

Sound is also well looked after by Rafael Dyll who has worked for NG:Dev in the past on all their previous titles.  It’s a very European styled synth soundtrack with a fairly relaxed mid-tempo beat, and it suits the game perfectly with stages 2 and 4 being the stand-out tunes in my opinion.  Sound effects are well done too, the mix is pretty much perfect – I’m a game music whore and really don’t like the music to be drowned out.

I’m pleased to report that the gameplay is very sharp too.  The ship speed is pretty high but not unmanageable and I got used to it after 10 or so plays.  You have standard wide spread rapid fire on the A button (no powerups), and bombs on B which can be replenished by picking up the small ‘B’ icons left by destroyed enemies.  Holding the C button at any time both focuses your fire and slows your ship down significantly – acting like a modifier button rather than the standard ‘A or C’ as found in many Cave games.  It’s pretty comfortable, no issues there but it might not be ideal depending on your button layout.

Enemy attacks are pretty varied, and include a mixture of mid sized enemies and fixed ground based targets in addition to popcorn enemies.  Most stages have a mid-boss in addition to the stage boss, the exception to this being stage 4 which has a slightly more tricky medium tank section instead.  I think I’d have liked to have seen a mid boss here too.  The bosses are pretty impressive, the stage 2 one is a particular favourite of mine just due to the design and the classic way it rolls into view.  As for enemy attacks, it’s a lower density of faster bullets rather than the typical Cave bullet overload.  I think the bosses could do with being a little more aggressive, for example the stage 3 end boss feels less dangerous than the fleet of mid-sized ships.

Scoring adopts a somewhat familiar medal pattern seen in Raizing / Yagawa games, for example Battle Bakraid and Ibara.  Smaller enemies sometimes drop medals, which increase in value as you collect them.  Like the Ibara model, if a medal is on screen and another spawns, they’ll be the same value – so to increase the chain you need to control your fire and pick them up before spawning more.   If you miss a medal and no more are on screen, the chain is reset.  An interesting new idea here is that using your bomb will push medals up the screen, even if they’ve just scrolled out of view, so if you’re stuck with no way to grab one you can sometimes rescue the chain by bombing.  It’s worth learning to be fast on this since sometimes enemies destroyed at the bottom of the screen can drop medals.  Medium enemies and bosses drop larger point medals, which are worth more if your small medal chain is maxed – appearing with a large X on them, and you’ll need to pick them up before they flicker and disappear.

Overall, it’s a great game and definitely their best work by a long shot, even including the popular Gunlord.  It very much reminds me of Tatsujin / Tatsujin Oh in particular, for example the tank designs, the skull warning graphic before bosses, the tiles which appear between the title screen and gameplay, even some of the enemy attacks.  The pace however feels like a nod to the faster play speed found in Batsugun and if you’ve ever liked any of the classic Toaplan titles, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this game too.  It’s about the right difficulty for me, I’d rank it in the same ballpark as Futari when not played for score in original mode – very different style of play but that’s another game that I could reach the final stage of comfortably.  I don’t know if it loops at a higher difficulty when the final boss is destroyed as I didn’t want to spoil things by credit feeding.

At the time of writing, I’m playing the version 1.1 patch – the initial 1.0 had some sprite priority bugs which I can report have been fixed.  A few extra enemies have been added and the stage 1 boss has a little more health.  There will soon be a Japanese location test, after which there will be a public 1.2 patch which I’d imagine will make the game a bit harder.  I think one change I’d make is to increase the number of items required to build your bomb stock, as they can become too plentiful.

It’s worth noting that the game has improved significantly since the original trailers – the enemy formations are better and the animation is in a different world, I think they really should have released a new trailer showing it off properly.  For now, I’ll leave you with two videos – the first (above) of the 1.0 initial release recorded by Ghegs, and the second (below) is the old official trailer which I included so you more of a taste for the music.  You can see the level of animation improvement right at the start with the player ship carrier.  This standard continues throughout.

I’ll post a 1.2 update when it’s released 🙂