ExZeus is actually a fairly old game, going for well over a decade and finding itself on numerous platforms; Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, and even an arcade cabinet to its name. It also saw a sequel in ExZeus 2 several years later. Developer HyperDevBox Japan now brings both games together for Xbox as ExZeus: The Complete Collection.
These are two vintage arcade shooters, given enough of a treatment to translate to modern controllers and resolutions, and while individually the games are far from hidden classics worth getting excited fans, nostalgic fans of 90’s arcade romps may find something to their liking here.
The collection itself is pretty basic, with both games accessible in a menu that does the absolute bare minimum in its presentation. These games are old, and aside from some resolution upscaling and the like, not a lot has been done. They perform fine for the most part, but they look like utter arse. Even back in 2003 when the original incarnation of ExZeus was first released, there were far more graphically and technically superior arcade games. The graphics are as basic as 3D games can look, and even the various particle effects look quite tacky.
There is some generic 90’s hard rock music here, and some of it sounds almost too familiar, like there are riffs lifted straight from Megadeth songs (no one get Dave Mustaine on the phone!). While the music itself is hardly anything noteworthy, the way it all comes together with the various sound effects and announcer voice, gives it the big sound of a noisy arcade cabinet. It’s so authentic that if you were to close your eyes, you’d feel like you were in an arcade attached to a bowling alley and diner, surrounded by poorly organised birthday parties for Little Johnny and Susie. Point is, these games do indeed have the sound and vibe which were once commonplace during the ‘90s.
ExZeus and ExZeus 2 are 3D rail shooters, a genre that is largely absent from the gaming zeitgeist today, and so it’s actually good to see two even not-so-great examples come bundled together for Xbox. These games take after the iconic Space Harrier, where the 3D levels move automatically on rails and players need to dodge and shoot until they reach the end of stage boss. Although both games stick to basic genre fundamentals, they are actually quite different in design and execution. And so, ExZeus 2 isn’t exactly the bigger and better sequel, instead it’s just a different style of game to its predecessor.
The original ExZeus is a straightforward 3D rail shooter, as players navigate stages and blast enemies with a main bullet attack, lock-on missiles, and a special laser beam attack once a full charge is available. The controls and offensive repertoire are simple and effective, and the stage design changes up with enemy variety and occasional physical obstacles to navigate around. There are three mechs to choose from, each one differing slightly in core stats like speed but not fundamentally changing the gameplay experience. Still, the core shooting gameplay, while ordinary and unremarkable, is at least fun and consistent. Which is more than can be said about the sequel.
In ExZeus 2 there is only the one mech, but it seems to be able to do more things, mainly because the game tries several gameplay ideas with very few of these occasionally being fun. The core rail shooting is present, but it is frequently punctuated with different gameplay segments, such as ground combat sections where you run around a small field to punch enemies, and even vehicular segments; some of these are fun and others are simply not, such as a painfully pointless motorcycle section.
Which brings up a bigger problem: Why on earth does a mech even need to operate another vehicle when a mech, in itself, is a vehicle in the first place? Are we to believe that in this strange sci-fi game world, an actual manufacturing industry emerged to produce motorcycles for giant robots? Getting back to the point, these gameplay segments don’t succeed in adding gameplay variety, instead they hurt the pacing and consistency, with most overstaying their welcome. In the end, the core rail shooting action is what works best.
As different as these games are, they share one thing in common: the absolute bonkers boss battles. These end of level foes are exaggerated in size, are clean and simple in attack patterns, and utterly fun to blast the living tar out of. They come in all shapes and sizes, and none of them make sense. But it doesn’t matter as they’re big and provide a screen-filling explosion upon defeat. If there is anything that these games do well, it’s the boss battles.
Individually these games hardly amount to anything worth checking out, but together as a rather inexpensive collection, ExZeus: The Complete Collection on Xbox can offer some cheap thrills in what is largely an unremarkable rail shooter duology. If you’re feeling starved for 90’s styled arcade shooters with all the noise, then these could be fun, but be prepared for underwhelming visuals and stock standard gameplay.
You can grab this ExZeus bundle from the Xbox Store