Schizoid Hands-On First Look

We get an exclusive look at the first Xbox Live Arcade game created with the XNA Game Studio, coming from Torpex Games.

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It may have taken a few years, but Microsoft's XNA initiative has finally borne some real fruit. The Xbox 360 maker positioned XNA as an easily accessible development platform for small-time and indie developers to create games that would work on both the 360 and Windows. Early next year, Bellevue, Washington-based developer Torpex Games will become the first developer to release an XNA-developed game, Schizoid, on Xbox Live Arcade. We got the exclusive first hands-on with the game to see what kind of mind-bending stuff Torpex has come up with.

Schizoid is like the two-player hybrid love child of Geometry Wars and classic Japanese shooter Ikaruga. You've got an overhead action stage full of brightly colored, abstract enemies. Half of the enemies are blue and half are orange. You've also got two ships, each controlled by one of two players. One ship is blue, one orange. See where this is going? Each ship can only destroy enemies of like color (by colliding with them; there are no guns), while one brush with an enemy of the other color means doom. Thankfully, when you die, you'll respawn right on top of your partner's ship, and because sticking close together to defend each other seems to be the best strategy so far, this can sometimes help you out when you're in the thick of a big mess of enemies.

The action can get more than a little intense at times.
The action can get more than a little intense at times.

Like in Geometry Wars, there are multiple enemy types, each of which has its own behaviors. A starfish-shaped enemy will rush at the other-colored ship, but rapidly flee from the same-colored one. An egg-laying enemy called a breeder drops eggs in a straight line as it travels, and those eggs will quickly turn into more aggressive enemies, so you need to take out their progenitor at the source. Some enemies will even evolve into an indestructible form if you leave them alone too long. The more intense the action gets, the more you have to verbally communicate a strategy with your partner, such as leapfrogging back and forth to destroy alternating waves of orange and blue enemies to keep you both alive.

Though there aren't any guns, per se, there are a handful of power-ups available in some levels. In the co-op spirit, one player can pick up and drag around a power-up, but both ships have to cross paths to actually activate it. One item is a simple smart-bomb that destroys enemies in a circle around you, while another allows you both to speed up temporarily (which is an indispensable ability). The most interesting one is the razor wire, which literally creates a wire strung between your two ships, which you can use to sweep or encircle a wave of enemies and kill them safely from a distance.

Power-ups like the razor wire will make your life easier--temporarily.
Power-ups like the razor wire will make your life easier--temporarily.

The game seems to be pretty thick with content because there are more than100 playable levels included for you to plow through. Once you've unlocked new levels (in sets of seven), you can go back and replay them individually to attempt a better score. Then there's an infinite mode that will spew enemies at you ad infinitum We only tried the game two-player locally with two controllers on the same system, but the final game will also have cooperative play over Xbox Live (which we didn't get to try out). Finally, if you're a total masochist, you can unlock the "uberschizoid" mode, which allows you to play by yourself, controlling each ship with one of the controller's two sticks. We got a few levels into this mode before our brains literally split in half (OK, not literally, but close). You thought walking and chewing gum at the same time was hard? Luckily, there's also a standard one-player mode where the computer controls the other ship, but in our experience, the game was much more fun with another player we could actively strategize with.

Schizoid has got an attractive look and a unique, cooperative-focused gameplay hook, so we're looking forward to checking out a more complete build of the game in the coming weeks. Look for more soon.

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