The fantastically named Excessive Trim is unlike anything we’ve played before. It feels like an arcade game that’s phased in from an alternate dimension. That dimension never had shoot ’em ups like Galaxian or Space Invaders: instead, they had bash ’em ups, where the aim was to ram-raid the enemy into submission. And through some cosmic crossed-wires, we’re somehow sitting here, playing it.
The ‘excessive trim’ of the title refers to the rather mean-looking blades around your ship. You’re an alien in your UFO, having arrived on Earth for a spot of joyriding. You drop into what looks like central USA, where you plan to rack up as many kills as you can. But you’re not outfitted with rayguns or smart bombs: you’ve got a thruster that gives you short, fast bursts of acceleration. In combination with your spinning blades of bloodletting, it’s a potent weapon.
Play runs vertically through the farmyards and ranches of provincial America. Like Xevious or other vertical shooters, your enemies start tumbling down the screen towards you. Heaven knows why they’re attacking a UFO with pitchforks, but that’s what they’re doing. Farmers, rednecks, cows and tractors all threaten to take you down.
With a jab of a button, you can burst in the direction of your analogue stick. Absolutely everything will be destroyed by your spinning blades. Whole herds of cattle get turned into a wall of red pixels. But there’s a catch: the burst only travels so far. You can only get about a third of the distance across the screen, and then you’re vulnerable. Worse still, that rush-attack is now on cooldown. You have to wait a couple of beats before it comes back.
You’re probably sensing the shape of Excessive Trim. It’s a bash ’em up where you’ve got to conserve your bashes. If you pump the attack button, you will be left with no countermeasures to a wall of tractors that come your way. There are plenty of instances where the rushes are essential to survive, so you have to pick your battles. Pick them poorly, and there’s a good chance you will lose one of your few health points and the run will be over.
It’s so much harder than it sounds. There is very little time or space between waves. All you can do is wait in that miniscule gap, recharging in the hope that you will recover before the bottom of the screen scrolls up and pushes you into an enemy. If you’re like us, you’ll be wondering what on Mars you could have done to survive. Some levels feel unsurvivable.
Then there’s the stuff you only learn by playing, over and over, punctuated with deaths. You need to anticipate the distance that you ‘burst’ forward, so that you don’t sprint headlong into a pylon. That can only be learned with time. It takes a little while to instinctively understand the time between bursts. While the cooldown is displayed on the top of your ship, you will need to internalise the time it takes. Excessive Trim becomes reflex.
It doesn’t help that none of this is tutorialised. What do the leaves that you collect do? What are the red circles that you rush into? You’re going to need to play to find out, bucko. The devs clearly feel that this is a ‘mess around and find out’ game, as runs are ridiculously short – often only a few minutes – and you will soon be back to the game menu. Who needs a tutorial when you can finish the game in the time it takes to complete one? Well, we could, as it happens. Excessive Trim can be a tad opaque, and we’re not sure it had to be this way.
There’s definitely a bell-curve of enjoyment going on with Excessive Trim. We started the game in a perpetual state of WTF. Some of that WTF was good – the reactions of the alien in the top-left of the screen are great, and remind us of old 90’s weed posters – and some of the WTFs are not so great. There’s that lack of tutorial, and the unintuitive manner in which you’re meant to learn things. It’s just a bit much.
But hold on and ride the rollercoaster to the top of that bell-curve. Because once things become clear and the controls become second nature, there’s a period where Excessive Trim is a riot. We’re going to give credit for the peak to Excessive Trim’s shop. At the end of each level, you can rush at a store owner who lets you pick one of three rewards. Those rewards range from the banal to the game-changing, as you gain fiery trails, wider blades or quickfire cooldowns (as long as you spam the attack button).
It’s the way that these abilities synergise, creating obviously imbalanced and ludicrous builds, that was key to unlocking Excessive Trim for us. We made our ship’s cooldown shorter, at the cost of speed, and then bumped up our speed with our next upgrade. Then we piled on extra damage and fire, and suddenly we were unstoppable. Even when we reached one health on the very last levels, we gained the final upgrade – a refresh to our hearts – and plowed on to the end, a red snail-like trail behind us.
Our enemies changed from cows and tractors to being the environment itself. We couldn’t be killed by Earth life-forms – our spam-attacks were too powerful for them now – but we could be killed by mis-timing the gap through a barn. The battle shifted from killing things, to keeping a racing line. It was a fascinating shift in dynamic.
Still got that bell-curve in mind? Good, because we’re about to slide down the other side. Excessive Trim is lacking in tricks. While the levels are procedurally generated, they all look astonishingly like each other. You will soon memorise the building blocks of each level. The barn followed by a wall of crates. The wheatfield hiding three lines of farmers. They become familiar to the point of boredom. There are no new enemies to face – you just see more of the same enemies, packed closer together. There are no new regions to explore – it’s the same Middle-American environments, as displayed on a Nintendo Virtual Boy.
If there were highscore tables or additional modes then things might have stayed interesting. Difficulty modes would have been nice. New upgrades, new ships, or a meta where you’re collecting and unlocking the Hades-like perks that appear in the shop. But Excessive Trim is reliant on its wacko premise and Carmageddon-like bloodthirstiness. Once you have found and gained all of the power-ups from the store, experiencing what a fully upgraded ship is like, then there is really nothing else to see. And all you can do is retread the paths that came before.
As a one-shot, Excessive Trim is incredible fun. You will go from confused to dumbstruck in roughly thirty minutes. But, like the alien in the game, it only functions in short, sharp bursts. Once you start asking what’s next, what will keep you playing Excessive Trim, then it shrugs and holds its empty hands out wide.