A fusion of 2-D and 3-D shooters, Xyanide tells the story of a cute manga-style witch named Aguira and an aptly-named Executioner sent to destroy her. But it’s not what you think: instead of fighting to protect Aguira, players are out to kill her.
The opening cut scene shows Aguira headed for her intergalactic capital punishment. But before Executioner can strike the killing blow, the spaceship which houses Aguira is struck by an asteroid made of Xyanide. Xyanide causes a person's thoughts to manifest themselves in reality, and, naturally, Aguira's thoughts take the form of spaceships with weapons ranging from particle beams to homing missiles. It’s up to the player to navigate Aguira’s psychic defenses and close in for the kill. Though Aguira’s thoughts initially manifest themselves mechanically, halfway through the game her thoughts become organic. Spaceships become manta rays and explosions of metal become explosions of gore. Cool.
Players steer their ship with the left analog stick and can fire 360 degrees with the right, making Xyanide reminiscent of Midway’s arcade classic Robotron: 2084. Face buttons correspond to the ship's various special attacks in offensive, defensive, shielding and support categories. Like Aguira’s thoughts, the player’s ship packs two different arsenals: mechanical fire will bring down colossal capital ships, while organic attacks work best destroying smaller fighters. Additionally, you can fire missiles, but you'll sacrifice regular fire and movement temporarily.
Xyanide’s blend of 2D and 3D gameplay separates it from other shooters - but that's also the source of its problems. Since the game automatically targets enemies on all three axes, players will occasionally find themselves firing into the distance while enemies on the horizontal and vertical axes swarm in for the kill. The developers included a florescent glow around foes that are close enough to collide with the player, and that becomes a key to survival in the later levels.
You'll find some novel ways to deal with the constant barrage of enemies: players can reflect enemy shots, launch a virus that infects ships and weakens them, slow time, release pheromones that cause enemies to attack one another or spawn a ghost ship to confuse foes. The visually spectacular screen-clearing attacks include both a nuclear explosion and chain lightning - they're traditional, but pretty.
Though the game features only six levels, they are extremely long and feature epic boss fights that can last over ten minutes. Xyanide’s arcade-style roots mean players must start at the same level each game and earn credits to continue, but defeated levels are unlocked for practice. You can hit two-player co-op mode at any time, but it will cost a valuable credit. Gamers can upload their scores to Xbox Live, but there is no online play. And unfortunately, the game’s soundtrack does nothing to add to either the story or the gameplay. Play your own tracks.
While it's limited, Xyanide makes no apologies for its style of play - it’s a straightforward shooter where the only way to interact is by killing everything. Gameplay is reflexive, with no need (or even time) for conscious thought. If you’re looking for a more classical style of game where you can turn off your brain and annihilate wave after wave of enemies as you dodge obscene amounts of enemy fire, Xyanide is for you.