If I had one nickel for every time aliens invaded Earth and we fought them with rail-shooting robots, I would have two nickel, which is not a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.
ExZeus: The Complete Collection is a bundle of two arcade-style rail shooters. The first game, ExZeus, was originally released in the arcades in 2003. Wii fans may know this first game as Counter Force since it was released on Wii in 2007. Its sequel, ExZeus 2, was released on the Apple App Store in 2012 and has since come out on a variety of other platforms. The full collection combines both games, but can these no-frills games survive in 2021?
Both games tell the story of alien invasions of the earth, which (of course) are countered by the development of giant ‘Mechs. ExZeus allows the player to choose from three different mechs, each with their own unique stats, while ExZeus 2 reduces this to a single mech. Each game is divided into a series of train lines, each interrupted by a boss fight against a huge alien creature.
Released as a true arcade unit, the original ExZeus is a bit of a quarter muncher, but maybe forgivable. Each level consists of a very simple rail segment that is generally in the shape of a tunnel full of enemies. There are very few obstacles to avoid, which is honestly a good thing since your mech takes up a large chunk of the screen real estate. While the first and last levels feel a bit deliberate, the levels in between just feel like a wall of enemies that are supposed to kill you and get another quarter. By comparison, most bosses are weirdly simple, with plenty of vulnerabilities and slow attack patterns. The entire game lasts around 20-30 minutes and is quite forgiving thanks to abundant sequels. It’s also bursting with arcade charm from the early 2000s. From the visuals that bring me back to playing Dreamcast to the soundscapes of electric guitars and an over-dramatic announcer, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic.
ExZeus 2 was never a true arcade game, which makes some of its design decisions a little more confusing. Basically it’s the same setup as in the first game: go through a level and then fight a boss. However, the levels are now divided into several segments, which consist of both rail shooting, combat segments in the foot arena and vehicle segments. In theory it’s nice, but none of them control as well as the railroad flight segments. In addition, unlike the first game in ExZeus 2, if you die once, you’ll have to go through the main menu entirely to continue from your final checkpoint. The whole thing feels less polished than the original, and without the excuse of being a literal arcade game, the aggressively difficult design is a lot less understandable.
The package as a whole runs very well with no loading screens visible other than a very brief pause when you select the game you want to play from the start menu. On top of that, unfortunately, this is an extremely bare package. I think it’s totally fine that both games keep their original graphics, in fact I prefer them, but the collection lacks the most basic quality of life updates. Above all, the first game that, as a real arcade game, requires the option of adding more tokens at the push of a button or simply activating Freeplay. The second game isn’t very good to be honest, but could be improved a lot with the option to have multiple lives, or even just keep going, without having to sit through the high scores screen and reload from the main menu.
As a small nugget in arcade history, the first ExZeus is certainly worth a visit and a good, albeit very uncomplicated, port. The second game isn’t really worth it unless you’re desperate. This is unfortunate as some major quality of life updates could make this a much better game. There are some cool stories out here, and this is a collection that will appeal to arcade or rail shooter enthusiasts but is hard to recommend outside of those specific circles.