Gamers who were active during the NES era always point to the system as a well of endless nostalgia. However, itís hard to pin down one unifying experience that represents this sentiment. People tend to have multiple memories from different games, coalescing into something more nebulous. There was the bread and butter of the system, the platformer, but then you had variations like the run ín gun and the non-linear adventure. And thatís not even taking into account the games that tried multiple genres in one package. And the list goes on. Because of this, itís difficult to point to a single game that acts as a thesis statement for the entire system. Xexyz, however, makes a very good case.
This underappreciated Hudson Soft game is of the genre-blending variety, but in a transparent way. Initially, the game plays in your typical platformer fashion, tasked with getting to the end of the level while shooting enemies along the way. In this way, it feels like a looser Mega Man. It also has some exploration with different rooms containing different little events, such as a frog in a smoking jacket offering to heal you for a price or a mini-game where you must hit a ghost with your head to knock a treasure chest from the ceiling.
And thatís not even mentioning the currency system which is used to buy Contra-style upgrades to your gun. But then the gameplay suddenly changes, becoming a surprisingly good horizontal shoot-em-up, complete with weapons and levels ripped straight from Darius. The ships are even fish, which is as good as a knowing wink in acknowledging the connection. And though it is less blatant, the rest of the gameís themes are lifted from a variety of sources as well. Robots and mechanical castles intermingle with fairies, forests, and ruins. Itís almost a cross-section of NES game settings and characters.
The same could be said for the game at large. All the different elements call to mind NES touchstones, seemingly in hopes of capturing the glory of all of them at once, which dangerously runs the risk of making an unfocused game whose parts canít stand on their own. Miraculously, Xexyz manages to avoid this pitfall. The individual stages are all well-designed and feel mechanically consistent with each other even when the gameplay shifts. The predictable stage pattern also ensures that no individual piece wears out its welcome. Everything is balanced for maximum fun.
It may be impossible to completely reproduce that nebulous sense of NES nostalgia. However, that doesnít stop Xexyz from being one of the most representative games of the system. It effectively mixes together disparate gameplay elements to create a focused experience that captures why gamers love games from the NES era. Plus, the hero looks like a space man in a duck costume.