Xeno Crisis review | Truly mega

The Sega Mega Drive gets a truly stonking top-down shooter in the vein of Smash TV. Here’s our review…


You enter a room, doors open, and hordes of shrieking enemies charge at you like frenzied shoppers at a January sale.

It’s a loop that has served action games well since the days of Smash TV (plus its predecessor Robotron: 2084 – except that game didn’t have any doors), and it’s employed to scintillating effect in Xeno Crisis.

In fact, Bitmap Bureau’s top-down arena shooter is so good, it’s difficult to believe that such a fast, fluid game could even run on the Mega Drive’s antique 16-bit hardware.

A broad menagerie of alien critters barge their way onto the screen in impressive numbers and panic-inducing speed, while your beleaguered space marine scoots around, fending off attacks with volleys of machine gun fire.

It’s intense, it’s absorbing, and enlivened enormously by veteran artist Henk Nieborg’s detailed sprite work and some gloriously gritty chiptune music.

The core game’s retro simplicity is complemented by some welcome ideas that add a bit more complexity to all the dodging and shooting: randomly generated networks of rooms mean you’re never quite sure what will attack you next; limited ammo means you’ll have to ration your rifle bursts to avoid running out just as an alien horde boxes you into a corner; meanwhile, collectable dog tags can be spent on upgrades for your character’s abilities.

You’ll need those upgrades, too, because Xeno Crisis offers a pretty stern challenge – it’s not off-puttingly difficult or unfair, but it will punish you harshly if you’re slow to master the art of, say, rolling to evade clusters of enemies.

If I had a bone to pick with the balancing, it’s in small things like the spawn rate of extra weapons; some of these are fun to play around with – shotguns and rocket launchers are particularly meaty – but run out so quickly, and appear so rarely, that it’s easy to forget they even exist.

Similarly, your marine’s melee attack is useful in theory, but its range is so short that it feels too risky to consider using unless you have no other choice.

These are minor niggles when weighed against the precision and sheer polish of Xeno Crisis as a whole; I’d even say it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the Mega Drive’s very best action titles from the eighties and nineties.

One final word of advice, though: while the game functions perfectly well with a three-button Mega Drive pad, the process of holding down a button to fix your direction of fire feels like a bit of a compromise. Switching to a six-button pad allows the game to approximate a twin-stick shooter, with the X, Y, A, and B buttons each mapped to a cardinal direction.

Play it like this, and Xeno Crisis really bursts into frenzied, bullet-strewn life.


Henk Nieborg’s sprite work is an obvious standout, but it’s arguably matched by Savaged Regime’s soundtrack. A mix of driving heavy metal beats and catchy synth melodies, it’s as addictive as the core game it underpins. Area 2’s theme tune – a pounding melange of drums and noodling keyboards – is an absolute banger.

Verdict: 81%

Proof that the Mega Drive still has it where it counts, Xeno Crisis is a cracking shooter.

Genre: Arena shooter
Format: Mega Drive (tested) / Neo Geo / Dreamcast / Switch / PS4 / XBO / PC / Mac / Linux
Developer: Bitmap Bureau
Publisher: Bitmap Bureau
Price: £55.00
Release: Out now

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