Friday, May 23, 2014

Feature Friday #11 - X Invasion 2

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


Everyone talks about the good ol’ days. The air was fresher, the grass was greener, games were more fun and they didn't ask you for money (you know, except for that big ol’ price tag on the front). There are a lot of good older games, granted. There were also a lot of really bad games and just kind of okay games that gamers in 2014 would never put up with. I won’t name names, but I’ll say that I’ve played some “classic” NES and SNES-era games in the last year or so that made me question a lot about my childhood… Presumably in an effort to recoup the past, developers have added increasingly more “old school cool” devices to their modern games, some good, some not so good. This week I played a game that found a way to do both, simultaneously impressing and infuriating me. That game is the flying, jet-fighting, bomb-dropping, alien defending simulator X Invasion 2

Everyone Jonesing for their 90’s or early-2000’s fix can find solace in X Invasion 2’s old school graphics and sound effects. The game screams retro - pew pew pew! (yes, those are actually the sounds of ships firing) - and hits the mark pretty well. It’s level-based and does a great job stretching the tutorial over the first half-dozen or so levels, showing all the aspects of gameplay without dumbing it down too much. The developers at Viderea, Inc. did some really great, untraditional things with the level design and that did a lot to keep the game fresh. I’ve played plenty of jet-fighting games, and most consist of the same few elements: flying, shooting, upgrading your plane, then flying and shooting some more. X Invasion 2 has most of these, but notably leaves out the whole upgrade-and-buy-new-planes aspect. The lack of this RPG element is bittersweet for me - I like that they’re trying something new rather than relying on traditionally successful models, but I think they chose the wrong feature to leave out. 
Come on, this was great!

I love that there’s an order to the levels, and consequently, that the game dictates which plane you’ll be using. I like that they simplified things and took the choice out of the users’ hands. I don’t even mind that they ommitted one of my favorite features - upgrading your ships and weapons - which also happens to add depth to the game. Where I think they missed the mark is in not allowing for any kind of progression or improvement. I didn’t notice this for a while, I was just going through the campaign, struggling a bit, but generally passing levels after no more than a few tries. Then came level 15…  

I don’t have a problem with difficult games or seemingly impossible levels as long as there’s a way to improve your chances of success. As may have realized by now, X Invasion 2 left this out, intentionally or not, and as a result I still haven’t beaten level 15. Ah the good ol’ days, when you’d get stuck on a level and be left with three options: 

  1. Pressing on, sometimes indefinitely. This offered a sense of satisfaction in eventually overcoming the challenge, but at the risk of going insane and diminishing your overall enjoyment in the game. Whether the game allowed grinding until you could improve your character enough to pass the challenge, or simply playing for so many hours that you’d exhausted every possible way to fail, this rarely felt wholly good at the end of it all. 
  2. Cutting and running, or “Do you value your sanity and your time more than your pride?”
  3. Buying your way to the finish (what we now call pay-to-win). Back before the internet and free-to-play, the shame of admitting defeat lasted much longer than the satisfaction of advancing in the game (when applicable).
I had no idea they still made strategy guides...

Now it could just be me (though I really doubt it isn’t), but I’d like a few more choices. I think that one thing modern gaming has done really well is fend off this stagnation and give users a chance to keep playing without going insane. Sure, plenty of games exploit this too, relying on the aforementioned pay-to-win, or finding other ways to soullessly eat money and/or patience from their players, but there are plenty of ways to do this the right way too. X Invasion 2 has an Arcade Mode, and that’s a good start, but I’d really like a way to get past level 15 at this point without diluting the game with an easier setting or the ability to buy progress directly. This lack of observable improvement is disheartening, and if I hadn’t been trying to make a point with this article, I probably would’ve stopped playing long ago. 

This used to fly a lot better in past decades, but there are at least two legitimate reasons for that. First, games were much less prevalent than they are now, so your choices were pretty much grind your way through this game, or don’t play video games. How long did you spend trying to beat Street Fighter II for the first time on SNES? There were no (acceptable) cheat codes or powerups that would help you win - success relied on improving your reflexes, anticipation, and strategy. It’s largely the same argument for X Invasion 2, but that’s exactly my point. If you couldn’t beat Street Fighter and decided to give up, you could play Mortal Kombat or… well that was about it for consoles. Sick of X Invasion 2? Here are dozens of other games just like it that you might have better odds with. 

The other argument for sticking with a game goes much deeper into the psyche. Sunk cost fallacy and loss aversion are two extremely human conditions that thoroughly describe why people have done things they don’t like for a long, long time. It can basically be summed up as:
People don’t like feeling that they’ve wasted something, particularly money, so they’re more willing to suffer through that something they’ve invested in (i.e. a bad game) than something else they’ve gotten for free
Since so many mobile games today (including X Invasion 2) are free to download, and therefore represent virtually no loss, users are significantly more fickle, and developers must work harder to keep them. Enter modern monetization tactics and pick-up-and-play game styles popular in mobile gaming today, and the rest is history. 

All this doesn’t negate the good, innovative things that X Invasion 2 does. Its accelerometer works as well as any I’ve seen, and the devs came up with a cool control-firing system that uses two hands in a non-awkward way, while actually improving gameplay. Firing is on the left, speed is controlled by sliding up or down on the right, altitude depends on the angle of your device. It’s that simple, and it works really well. Another small thing that I really liked, X Invasion 2 is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, not some anonymous terrain-less fictional world. While most of the map looks like Google Maps from about 2001 (hey I said the graphics were old school...), they built up notable landmarks around SF - Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, I think even Town Hall - and you can even take pictures of them while flying around in Tour Mode. 

All that said, X Invasion 2 is a pretty fun game, for a while. I had a lot of fun exploring different level types, and I thought the night vision, cloaked, and bombing levels were really impressive. Eventually though the game burnt itself out by not providing a way to improve or advance, and left me little regret when I stopped playing for good. The developers had a great start, and if they continue to update it, this could be a lot more than a niche flying game with some fun levels. Let’s hope they do.


If you’re looking for an old-school flying game that’s going to beat you up a few times, X Invasion 2 is awesome. The devs did a lot of fun things, and I really enjoyed playing this game for a while. Multiple game modes provide some longevity, but ultimately not as much as I would’ve liked. Still, if you want a good way to spend a few days this is definitely worth checking out. It’s available on iOS for free and does contain banner ads, but no IAP. 

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