RELEASE DATE: 08/26/90 – (JP)
XDR stands for “X-Dazedly-Ray.” Even if you’re a proficient Japanglish speaker, this doesn’t make sense. Did developer UNIPACC mean to say “Deadly”? “Dastardly”? Some wicked combination thereof? Whatever their intention was, the extended title is this game’s most memorable feature. X-Dazedly-Ray is a soulless horizontal shoot-em-up, completely void of any creativity or personality whatsoever.
You play as the titular ship XDR, recruited by your home planet Sephiroth to singlehandedly stop the invading Guardia army. XDR is initially outfitted with a two-bullet stream, but there are different item/weapon upgrades that will equip him into the most dazedly ship around. In addition to an upgradeable four-bullet stream, you can also pick up Homing Missiles, extra Speed that’s adjustable, up to two Options that hang around XDR and absorb nearby shots, a Laser Beam, a Wave Beam, and a Wide Beam.
Not all of these weapons are created equal (the Laser Beam has too narrow of a range to be useful), but they can all be strengthened up to three times by picking up additional upgrades. You can have Missiles, a Shield, two Options, and one beam/bullets equipped all at once, but you can’t stockpile beams/bullets. Either you have bullets, Laser, Wave or Wide; no switching between them. And as with most shoot-em-ups, if you die, you lose your arsenal. Don’t die.
If I could compare XDR to a better horizontal shoot-em-up, it would be Gradius. Both feature enemies that attack from the air and ground. Both have levels that enclose the ship in tight spaces. And both are impossible to complete if you die and lose all your weapons in the middle of a level.
But where Gradius was a hip young thing that elevated the burgeoning shoot-em-up genre’s presence in 1985, XDR can’t hold its own next to advanced genre stand-outs like Thunder Force III. Outside of some nice use of the Mega Drive’s color palette in the enemies and backgrounds, no aspect of the game holds your interest. The level design is basic, albeit punishing due to the large number of protrusions that make XDR explode when he touches them. The weapons get the job done, but they’re also generic and have appeared in countless other shmups prior. And the bosses are weak, both in their forgettable design and in how easy they are to bring down.
XDR never made it out of Japan, though I’m not sure if that was due to poor sales, or because developer/publisher UNIPACC didn’t have the funds to bring it to different territories. Either way, Europe and the Americas were blessed. UNIPACC wasn’t so lucky. They released XDR, then disappeared, never to be heard from again.
Stark mediocrity might be preferable to some gamers over unmitigated trash, but I’ll take a memorable, terrible game over something that leaves no impression on my mind. XDR is everything that critics hate about the shoot-em-up genre. It’s derivative, it’s pointless, and most importantly, it’s not an enjoyable experience. On a system like the Mega Drive that’s filled with decent-to-great shooters, XDR doesn’t need to exist.