Welcome to Save State. A game recently came out that had me absolutely enthralled for a time while waiting for the release of Xenoblade 3, and while it is still in Early Access on Steam, the title proves to be very promising with its design, controls, and inspiration. The game in question is Ex-Zodiac, a kind of Star Fox successor on PC. A down-to-brass-tacks rail shooter that wears its inspiration on its sleeve, Ex-Zodiac will give you the impression that you’re playing Star Fox 64 with upscaled Star Fox SNES graphics.
Ex-Zodiac captures the gameplay and feel of early Star Fox games, and combines them with a retro aesthetic, fantastic soundtrack, and arcade-style score challenges. You control your ship with the analog stick and can press the shoot button to fire your laser, or hold it to charge your laser and take out multiple enemies at once. You can also deflect enemy shots by doing a barrel roll, just like in Star Fox 64. This is a case of a game playing exactly how it looks, and it’s all the better for it- the controls are uncomplicated and responsive. You boost, brake, shoot lasers or bombs, and take out every enemy in sight in order to reach the end of a stage with a high score.
At the time of writing, there are 6 main stages in Ex-Zodiac, each with a boss to defeat at the end. Being a rail shooter, this means Ex-Zodiac isn’t exactly a long game, right now. There are a number of achievements to unlock even at this early stage, mostly involving clearing stages and getting an S-rank score, but there are hidden bonus stages you can access that play a lot like Space Harrier levels in cyberspace. In each level is an enemy with a secret chip which, if collected, will take you to completely unique bonus stages with different bosses. It’s actually really inventive, and kind of impressive, how the gameplay of Star Fox and Space Harrier could be married so easily and not encroach upon one another.
The soundtrack is outstanding, perfectly fitting the retro aesthetics of the game. +TEK knocked it out of the park composing this game’s OST, and I never got tired of hearing particular tracks even while replaying levels to get higher end of stage ranks. The visuals more or less match those of Star Fox on the SNES but at a much higher resolution, and there are settings in options that let you add that perfect pixelated aesthetic to really make Ex-Zodiac look as if it’s running on the SNES’s SuperFX chip.
Bosses are a pretty major part of rail shooters, and Ex-Zodiac doesn’t disappoint in this regard, so far. Counting both the main and special stages, there’s 12 bosses in the game currently, and many of them are as creative as they are diverse. There’s some trial and error to learning the perfect ways to take them out quickly, especially considering that fast boss clear times are the most important for acquiring an S rank, but for your first time through they should be pretty fun to learn when the safe moments to attack are.
The largest downside of Ex-Zodiac is in the fact that I’m sure the developers spent a good amount of time writing dialogue for the characters to say while you’re shooting down baddies, but unfortunately the speed of the game and need to stay on top of ever spawning enemies makes it extremely difficult to glance down to the text boxes. Hopefully voice acting is on the docket for the future, because as of now I’ve run through each stage of the game 3-4 times to get A and S ranks and have absolutely no idea what any of these characters have said at any given point in time. Of course, dialogue and story aren’t exactly why you’d play a nostalgic rail shooter- most people would primarily play these games for the action, and that’s what Ex-Zodiac nails perfectly.
All in all, Ex-Zodiac is a fantastic time, and hopefully the developer continues to add more content in the future. Apparently, the game is being developed by just a couple people, which honestly makes the game all the more impressive. It can be fun to play spaceship titles where you need to fight the controls in order to succeed, but the developers of Ex-Zodiac were talented enough to give us a Star Fox style game that not only captures the look, but is just generally a joy to handle, just like the titles that this was inspired by.
A bit of a short one this week, but July was jam-packed full of new releases to get distracted by. I hope you’ll join us again in a couple weeks for a brand-new Save State!