Big guns and iron clad maidens round out this short but fun arcade shooter.
Two years ago, Triggerheart Exelica landed in Japanese arcades running on Sega's NAOMI hardware. A year later a posthumous release graced the Japanese Dreamcast console, though in very short supply. And now, another year later, the Xbox Live Arcade has become home to this highly addictive shooter. Developed by Warashi, the people behind traditional arcade shooters like Shienryu and Sengeki Striker, Triggerheart Exelica is a vertically scrolling 2D shooter in the same vein. And while traditional arcade shooters all share the same basic formula, Triggerheart Exelica introduces some cool new mechanics to help it stand out from the rest.
The storyline of Triggerheart Exelica takes place in a galaxy far away where a war is raging. Players take control of a pair of humanoid-looking characters named Exelica and Crueltear, a cute but deadly duo also known as 'Triggerhearts'. These sister combat units were developed by an interplanetary defense organization known as C.H.I.L.D.A. and sent into battle against the evil Ver'mith. Just as the battle was won, Exelica and Crueltear were accidentally teleported to Earth by the remaining Ver'mith forces who happened to be right behind them with plans to conquer the Earth and make it their new home base. Still recovering from their injuries from the previous battle and unable to return home, Exelica and Crueltear realize that they have to protect their new home at all costs.
In doing so, players will have to battle their way through 5 levels of intense shooting action. The gameplay of Triggerheart Exelica is textbook vertical scrolling shoot-em 'up fare. At the beginning of the game you have your choice of Exelica and Crueltear as playable characters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Exelica has more of a human personality than her sister and is armed with a spread shot weapon that makes her a great choice for beginners. Crueltear is a little faster and a little more hot-headed than Exelica and is armed with a weapon that fires linear shots that can do more damage to enemies. Additionally, both characters are equipped with a limited number of screen-clearing bombs to help get them out of extremely sticky situations.
As players navigate the sister units through the game's colorfully vibrant levels they'll have to contend with a seemingly endless barrage of enemies attacking from the ground and the air. Weapon power-ups and additional bombs can be acquired along the way and you can rack up some serious points by destroying everything in sight and collecting all of the score items left behind.
Constantly weaving in and out of enemy fire is a joy in Triggerheart Exelica as both characters are quite maneuverable and the controls are pretty simple, consisting of standard rapid fire shots and a bomb button. However, what sets the game apart from other shooters is the Anchor shot feature, an interesting play mechanic that allows players to shoot out an anchor and capture enemy ships with it. The captured ships can then be used to shield yourself from enemy fire, plow through swarms of enemies, and even be used as projectiles that you can swing around and then launch into oncoming attack waves.
The Anchor shot is effective against most of the enemies in the game, with the size of the enemy ships playing a factor in how quickly they can be captured. The smaller the ship, the quicker the capture, and the larger the ship, the longer it takes to gain control of them, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks if not careful. Additionally, while the Anchor feature isn't as effective in capturing end level bosses, and some of the mini-bosses you'll encounter throughout the game, using it against them allows you to utilize another nifty aspect of the anchor shot. You can basically latch onto the vulnerable sections of the bosses, and while tethered to them, your cannon will automatically lock onto the selected target until it's destroyed. The Anchor shot is certainly a fun gameplay mechanic that takes a little practice to get the hang of, and when used properly, can greatly improve your scoring.
While the action in Triggerheart Exelica is fast-paced, with hordes of enemy ships, tanks, and mini-bosses of various sizes to destroy, the game is still a bit on the easy side. End level bosses provide additional challenges, often times taking various attack forms before finally being destroyed, and the game's 'Variable Boss Attack system' makes it so that the bosses will adjust their attacks depending on player skill.
While the game has adjustable difficulty settings, after a bit of practice even players with average skills will be able to clear the game without using up any continues on the easy and normal settings, and probably continue a small number of times on hard mode. But regardless of that, with the game providing unlimited continues, players of all skill levels will be able to see everything the game has to offer their first time through.
Even though Triggerheart Exelica is still a fairly young arcade game, the graphics remain above average at best. While the high-definition visuals are bright and colorful with some decent-looking 3D backgrounds, nothing really stands out as far as graphics go. The audio on the other hand fares a little better with solid sound effects and some pretty upbeat tunes driving the action.
For hardcore shoot 'em up fans, Triggerheart Exelica is probably an instant buy. For casual gaming fans, 800 Microsoft points may be too high a price for a single-player game containing a total of 5 levels that can be completed in 15-20 minutes. After that there isn't much else to do in the game other than take a crack at the leaderboard rankings for each character and difficulty setting, and unlock all of the Achievement points. It would have been nice to get extra features like the Story and Arrange mode that made their way into the Dreamcast version, but alas, there are none.