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Leave Home is only ever as hard as you are good. The game’s difficulty is constantly adapting to your current play standard. Play like crap and the current level will get easier, then the one after will start out at a very basic difficulty level. Pro your way through a section and it’ll be followed by a cranked up version of the next, with new layouts, new enemies, new set-pieces and far more bullets. And while this means that literally any player of any ability can get a lot out of Leave Home, it also adds a whole new level of depth to your relationship with the game.
There’s a gentle rivalry you’ll develop with it. If you want to score big, you’ll have to play well, as tougher levels mean more things to kill. You’ll challenge the game to throw its best at you, and then if that best turns out to be too good, you’ll rail against it as it insults you with a drop to rudimentary difficulty, daring it to go at you with the hard stuff again. There’s a brilliant back-and-forth dynamic to it, which for all of Leave Home’s abstraction, instils it with a hell of a lot of heart.
In addition to its clever and constantly rewarding approach to challenge, Leave Home’s basic gameplay will give you more fun elements to get your teeth into than any side-scroller you’ve played before. Key to it all is the brilliant bullet-bending system, whereby a shot modifier on the right trigger changes the angle of your shots on the fly. More challenging and satisfying to use than the now-default twin stick system, Leave Home allows you to use incremental squeezes of the trigger to curl your twin shot streams to the side, and eventually right round behind your craft.
Up against an enemy with a tricky-to-hit weak point on the bottom? You could get in close and try to skim it with straight shots, or you could take the far more fun option and cheekily duck in underneath it, blasting it with a clinically-precise stream of death from your upper-left corner, before flipping your shots back down in front and ploughing your way through everything ahead of you. And beyond the immediate visceral thrills and tactical variety, Leave Home evolves side-scrolling level design to make the most of the mechanic on a second-by-second basis.
One minute (literally) you’ll be blasting along, R-Type-style, from left to right, and then a level transition later you’ll be amongst an omni-directional field of cubes, the environment scrolling and shifting around you in multiple directions with no real sense of forward or back. Your targets are all around you, as are your escape routes, and suddenly you’re playing a top-down shooter which demands tight but flexible use of the curved shot system in a 360-degree battle. This kind of invention is constant throughout Leave Home’s brilliantly-paced six-minute duration, and coupled with the organic difficulty shifts, it means that you can blast through its short run for hour upon hour and still find new and cool things to do.
If all of this hasn’t convinced you to throw down the meagre 240 MS Points required, then know this: Leave Home absolutely perfects the core goal of every 2D shooter. Thanks to the combination of everything we’ve already told you about, Leave Home strikes a flawless balance between adrenalin-charged “OMG!” moments and making you feel like an all-conquering badass.
It will challenge you, but never stop you. It will hurl nightmarish bullet-hell at you at times, but thanks to your ship’s versatility and some forgiving hit detection, it will always give you the ability to overcome it. Unlike many of its brethren, Leave Home isn’t a game that wants to throw inhuman punishment at you until you’ve learned the required muscle memory and level layouts well enough to survive. Instead, it’s an organic, ever-changing friend that wants to stimulate and challenge you, but only ever with the intention of making you better at it, and giving you more. Get it. Get it as soon as you’re next near your Xbox 360.
(In fact you don't even need to wait that long, as you can auto-download it to your machine from here)