If I had a nickle for every time aliens invaded Earth and we fought them off with rail-shooting robots I'd have two nickles, which isn't a lot but it's weird that it happened twice.
ExZeus: The Complete Collection is a package of two arcade style rail-shooters. The first game, ExZeus, was originally released in arcades in 2003. Wii fans may know this first game as Counter Force, as it was released on Wii in 2007. Its sequel, ExZeus 2, launched on the Apple App Store in 2012 and has since come to a variety of other platforms. The complete collection combines both games, but with a lack of bells and whistles, can these games hold up in 2021?
Both games tell the story of alien invasions of Earth, which are countered (naturally) 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 simplifies this down to a single mech. Each game is broken into a series of rail-line levels, each punctuated by a boss fight against a giant alien creature.
The original ExZeus having been released as an actual arcade unit is a bit of a quarter muncher, but perhaps forgivably so. Each level consists of a very straightforward rail-line segment that generally takes the form of a tunnel full of enemies. There are very few obstacles to dodge, which is honestly a good thing, as your mech takes up a huge portion of the screen real estate. While the first and last level feel somewhat intentionally designed, the levels in between just feel like a wall of enemies designed to kill you and get another quarter. By comparison most of the bosses are comically easy, with ample weak points and slow attack patterns. The entire game lasts around 20-30 minutes, and thanks to abundant continues, it is pretty forgiving. It's also brimming with early 2000’s arcade charm. From the visuals that take me back to playing Dreamcast, to soundscapes of electric guitars and an over-dramatic announcer, it's hard not to get a little nostalgic.
ExZeus 2 was never an actual arcade game, which makes some of its design choices a bit more confusing. At a basic level, it's the same setup as the first game: go through a level then fight a boss. However, levels are now broken up into multiple segments consisting of both rail-line shooting, on foot arena combat segments, and vehicle segments. It's nice in theory but none of them control as well as the rail-line flight segments. Additionally, unlike the first game, when you die once in ExZeus 2 you die for real and have to cycle fully through the main menu to continue from your last 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 much less understandable.
The package as a whole runs very well and no loading screens are visible outside of a very short pause when you select which game to play from the startup menu. Unfortunately, beyond that, this is an extremely bare bones package. I’m perfectly fine with both games maintaining their original visuals, in fact I prefer it, but the collection is sorely lacking in the most basic of quality of life updates. Especially the first game, which as an actual arcade game, needs the ability to add more tokens with a button press, or simply enable freeplay. The second game is honestly just not very good, but could be made significantly better with the option to have multiple lives, or even just to continue without having to sit through the high score screen and reload from the main menu.
As a little nugget of arcade history, the first ExZeus is certainly worth having and is a good, though very straightforward port. The second game isn’t really worth it unless you're desperate. This is unfortunate as some basic quality of life updates could make it a much better game. There is some cool history 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.