Sometimes a game really gets under my skin and makes me the sort of excitable-happy general society says I should have grown out of around the same age I stopped asking for chilli dogs “Because Sonic likes them”. There’s no particular common theme that binds these special games together – sometimes they’re beautiful 2D ARPGs, on others they’re time-travelling dinosaur shooting games. On this occasion, it’s Capcom’s E.X. Troopers.
If you don’t already know, E.X. Troopers is Capcom’s 2012 anime re-spray of the already wonderful Lost Planet 2 and released in the most natural of last gen hardware pairings – Playstation 3 and 3DS. Through some magical trickery almost approaching witchcraft both versions of the game are identical in every way, so pick the region-free PS3 version if high resolution (well, 720p) 3D’s your sort of thing, or go for the region-locked 3DS game if you want to play around with AR cards or shoot Akrid on your lunch break. The 3DS version also supports the slide pad (and equally, the new! 3DS’ built-in nub), so there’s no loss of control if you choose to go portable.
But that’s just practical stuff – I want to talk about the way E.X Troopers makes you feel.
You see this isn’t just a case of “Kimimi really likes this game in a borderline-unhealthy way”, but taking the time to notice that E.X. Troopers is a title that is designed at the most fundamental level to encourage gamers to play in an exciting way and have a positive experience. Sound a bit hard to believe? Let’s take a look at a few core game mechanics:
The first and most important is Thermal Energy (often abbreviated T-ENG): This orange goop spills out of every enemy you shoot at whether you kill it or not, and every last drop will replenish a bit of your life gauge as well as build up your special-attack-unleashing EX-T gauge. What this means is that players are consistently rewarded for going on the offensive and that doing something brave/stupid (depending on how you feel about charging headlong into a group of enemies) is always the best course of action. The game doesn’t want you to hide behind some convenient rubble while your health automatically recharges so you can carefully pick off another adversary, it wants you to charge in at full speed, kick a guy in the face, then shoot his buddy before he can even get a shot off.
Even if you do come off worse for wear in a firefight it’s still not the end of the world - most story battles give you three respawns before kicking you out, and even if that does happen you still get some XP towards a level up so you’re always better off for sticking with it and having a go than giving up and hoping for a clean run next time.
Outside of battle the game world is presented as a free-roaming hub for you to walk around and interact with other characters in. Some are just there for a bit of world-building chat, others will progress the main story (helpfully marked with a “!"), and others will offer side quests and challenges that can unlock some helpful little extras. There’s even a special VR area that’s home to an extensive set of extra-challenging (and bar the first, completely optional) missions if you’d like to have a go – E.X. Troopers is always laid out in an if-you-fancy-a-go sort of way, the bright-and-breezy style permeating everything from the art direction to game design choices like this.
If you’re still having trouble the only thing to do is eat your way out of it by buying a tasty snack from a vending machine or the cafe and enjoying the slightly random stat boost it provides. You can see roughly what to expect from each meal before buying so if you feel like you need an attack boost or a touch more HP to pass the next mission then you can eat your way to victory rather than grind for a level up or weapon upgrade materials. The important thing to remember is that these buffs are entirely optional and that they’re always a buff, so no matter what you’re always better off for stuffing Bren’s face with food than not.
The above might make it seem like E.X. Troopers is afraid to challenge gamers or let them fail, but that couldn’t be further from the truth – E.X. Troopers is all about supporting players so they can play in an exciting way and come out on top if they follow the cast’s irresistibly effervescent lead.
It’s just one of those games – like Phantasy Star Online – where everything comes together perfectly: the music, the setting, the game itself, to create an electric experience that’s very much like the best of 90’s action gaming in bottled form. But E.X. Troopers isn’t a sad homage to days gone by or a deliberate attempt to recapture anything that’s gone before – not even happy memories of Lost Planet 2 – E.X. Troopers is far too busy forging it’s own path, doing it’s own thing, and it really wants you along for the ride.
The 3DS screenshots above are from an article I wrote for Nintendo Life (used with permission).