Thexder NEO is a project that was undertaken by Square Enix to revive a very old classic action-arcade game originally made by Game Arts way back in 1985 under the guise of Thexder. It was well received at the time, but its revival initially took people by surprised. Thexder NEO is essentially a remake of the original, and it hopes to capture those who have fond memories of the title, while introducing new players to some old school gaming.
Essentially the game is based around a very simple premise, so there isn't really a story in place. Players looking for a deep and involving plot are probably looking in the wrong place, as Thexder NEO is all about the gameplay and in that respect there is an abundance. Players take control of a Bi-Pedal Mech armed only with homing lasers and the ability to transform into a Jet Plane, it might sound quite limiting, but it's more than enough.
For those who have heard of or maybe played the previous game, as far as updates go, they've revived it with absolute precision. Everything is kept in the exact same style, but it has seen an extreme graphical make-over. However, aside from a difficulty select, there are no extra additions to the main game. Probably the biggest change aside from the graphics comes with the balancing and tuning. What was originally quite slow paced has become a much faster experience. It's not really clear whether the game is any easier or harder because of this, but one thing is for certain, completing the game on normal is a challenge to say the least.
The game is split across ten stages, with each stage being cleared by locating and crossing the goal. Along the way players will encounter many different kinds of enemies, most of which are indescribable but are essentially made up from mechanical shapes. These are swiftly dealt with by using the homing laser; holding down circle and facing the direction of the enemy dispatches them rather rapidly. However, the weapon does have limitations. If the AI manages to get too close, they will continually spiral around the player, depleting their health and due to the weapon, targeting them becomes a significant problem. Thanks to the homing laser they can still be dealt with as they dart back and forth across the player, but it still causes some frustration.
Some enemies drop pickups in the form of health, but for the most part only very specific enemies will do this. These are usually located out of the way in areas of the level that do not really need to be visited. Generally it's often easier to simply rush around the level at high speed in the Jet Plane and try to find the exit as fast as possible - something that inevitably detracts from the overall experience. Surely this is not the way the game was intended to be played, but the seemingly broken enemies make it essential to actually progress. The mech also has a shield that makes them invincible for a limited period of time, making a level blitz seem even more appealing.
To try and make the gameplay more varied, there are also sections where it isn't possible to touch the floor or where players must dispatch multiple enemies in Plane form. However, they are extremely awkward and aren't overly enjoyable. The plane is extremely volatile, it moves at a very rapid pace and simply dispatching enemies without touching them can be quite difficult. This does create rather stressful moments where circling constantly seems to be the only way to break through, without taking copious amounts of otherwise unnecessary damage.With regards to the level design, it's generally quite unique. The overall look is changed often enough diffuse any lingering sense of boredom. but it is sadly apparent that the idea was one conceived on very limited resources, and possibly could have done with maybe a bit more updating. Having said that, there are a few additions which do display some newer aspects of development, but they are generally just fleeting moments. This could be perceived as a good thing in the sense the game doesn't feel stale, but being able to complete the game within an hour is quite unsatisfying.
The sound quality throughout is superb, as the general sound effects are very refreshing. The music also doesn't ever get too repetitive because it changes around just enough to actually be enjoyable to listen to. Coupled with the improved graphics, it creates a PSP game that has great presentation.
For those who find the game particularly tricky, there are multiple difficulty levels. Finishing the game on easy isn't too difficult, as expected, because players are allowed to restart a stage should they die. However, on normal the game is a lot less forgiving and a single life is all that is granted for the entire duration of the game. The repetition that happens as a result may become somewhat frustrating. It's not to say that it makes the game bad because it requires quite the dedication to beat, but while gamers back in 1985 may have tolerated this, things have moved on a lot since then.
One of the biggest additions to the title comes with the online play. There are several game modes which can be played with several others, but they all work on the premise of beating a level in the fastest time possible and comparing high scores. These stages are all reused from the main game, so there isn't really much variation aside from an option to turn on flags. These flags must be destroyed in order to complete the stage which adds a different level of depth and challenge for players as it actually warrants more exploration of the levels. Given the short length of the single-player campaign, the online component might help to elongate the experience, but probably not for long.
Thexder NEO is a great revival of the classic original. However, this is also one of its biggest downfalls. Aside from looking good and sounding great, it really doesn't update itself enough for the modern day audience. Games do not achieve greatness on their visuals alone, and what may have been appealing gameplay wise in the past isn't going to appeal to everyone today. It's not to say it's bad, because it's still a good game, however, it really could have done with a lot more updating from a design perspective to really welcome new players.