If there was an award for the Greatest Titles In Videogaming History – then the shooters which make up The eXceed Collection would be clear cut winners. If there was an award for the finest Bullet Hell Shooter in History? Gun Bullet Children, Vampire Rex and… er… Jade Penetrate Black Package (okay, you might want to whisper that one) would make for formidable competition…
The eXceed collection is the work of two doujin circles, with the original coming from FLAT and then later taken charge of by Tennen-Sozai. The setting for this (yes, there is a story!) revolves around an invasion of vampires, which can only be neutralized by the church – who decide the only sensible course of action is to send out little girls to take them down. These aren’t normal little girls though – these are supernatural bullet-spewing girls. Which is a good job really, because for every bullet they spew, the enemy will spew them back a thousand-fold.
Oh yes indeed, we are FIRMLY in bullet hell territory here – and if you’re comfortable in that setting then you’re going to find PLENTY to enjoy here. Not least because all three games in this collection serve up a very different taste of the same delicious meal. So lets start with Gun Bullet Children shall we?
As you’d expect from the first, and therefore oldest in the series, it’s relatively simple both visually and in terms of mechanics to the other two. You have a choice of three characters which will give you different offensive capabilities and then before you a gauntlet to run of bright red bullets through oncoming waves of smaller, mid-size and boss enemies – the latter of which provide the the more interesting bullet patterns to navigate. To make things a little easier you can slow your movement for the finer necessities of dodging. You also have the ability to deliver a much more intense barrage of shots via your super weapon – which you can charge by ‘grazing’ – getting very close to bullets to charge it up. Frankly, there are so many bullets on screen, particularly against bosses, that you’ll find you have pretty regular access to this!
While it’s obviously a little more rudimentary compared to the latter games, Gun Bullet is interesting for a number of reasons – I like the fact that you can see the developer’s roots – and particularly how they’ve grown in ability. Also Gun Bullet, for its simplicity, acts as a decent entry point into the finer point of Bullet Hell Shooters.
However, there can be no argument that the real meat of this collection comes via the introduction of the second – Vampire Rex. I’m actually torn between this and the third as my favourite in the series. It mightn’t have Jade Penetrate‘s more accomplished looks, but I really like the Polarity System in this one.
If you’ve played Ikaruga, then you’ll know what I mean by this. Bullets come it two colours, red and white. You can also swap your ship’s colours too – where the opposite colour to your ship will kill you, but the opposite colour enemy to your bullets will cause twice the damage. Hit bullets of the same colour though and you can absorb them, charging up a meter to deliver a super-charged shot.
While Treasure’s shooter obviously has the edge in production values – I prefer Vampire Rex to Ikaruga – mainly because the scoring system isn’t quite so rigid. In Ikaruga, you always feel like there’s a ‘correct’ way to play it. Like the designers had some master plan, and if you don’t follow it, you won’t maximise your score – Vampire Rex doesn’t feel like it has this restriction. It feels much free-er (is that a real word?) less restrictive – more… organic somehow. I think if I had to total my play time on all these games, I think Vampire Rex probably comes out on top, for that very reason.
That’s my personal preference though – and for many I know, Jade Penetrate is the real gem in this collection. What I DO like about these three games is that they’re all inherently different. There’s a definite evolution. A freshening of mechanics. A feeling that Tennen-Sozai aren’t happy resting on their laurels.
With this being the case Jade Penetrate steps things up by being the most beautiful of the three games in the package – and also the most refined in terms of mechanics. You have your standard shot, focus fire which slows you and gives you a little read bead to show exactly where your hitbox is (as is often the case with these shooters, your ‘ship’ is actually bigger than the part that which will kill you if hit) and a graze system again which charges your more powerful weapon and also bombs for screen clearance.
Layered on top of that you have score mechanics that encourage taking down enemies quickly (encouraging you to move further up screen for more damage) and also the ability to covert bullets into score when the enemy is killed. The result is a shooter with great depth and a huge amount of replay value as your skill, and ability to exploit the score mechanics, improves.
For Shooter fans in particular – this package represents great value for money – particularly as all three games offer something so different. You’d be forgiven for thinking that absorbing three bullet hell shooters in one go might be a little bit overwhelming, but the individual experiences are such that you can enjoy each for their own merits. If you DON’T consider yourself a bullet hell fan, then regardless, there’s plenty to enjoy here – especially if you dial down the difficulty. If you don’t want to dive head first into all three then I suggest you perhaps dip your toe into the genre by picking up Jade Penetrate first – as all three games are also downloadable individually.
You can pick up eXceed Collection here.
The Original Gun Bullet Children is available here.
Ikaruga-like Vampire Rex can be found here.
And the most recent in the series, Jade Penetrate can be found here.