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Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Developer: Torpex Games


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Xbox Live Arcade Review - 'Schizoid'

by Mark Melnychuk on Aug. 13, 2008 @ 2:43 a.m. PDT

Featuring addictively simple gameplay, in Schizoid one person plays ‘red’ and the other plays ‘blue’. Each player moves his ship around the level as a seemingly endless stream of enemies attack. Each player can burst enemies of their own color merely through contact, but each player can be bursted by enemies of the other color. Both players have to “step up” on every level to handle the enemies of their own color, so their partner is not destroyed.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Torpex Games
Release Date: July 9, 2008

With successful mainstream titles like Rock Band and Army of Two, games that focus on cooperative multiplayer are springing up everywhere, and the function is now becoming an expected staple of nearly every new release. Given this revelation, it's no surprise that the co-op craze would eventually seep into the realm of the Xbox Live Arcade. Schizoid, the first arcade game to be developed using Microsoft's XNA: Studio Express, is probably one of the most cooperative games ever seen on the service, let alone gaming at large.

Despite being named after a severe social disorder, Schizoid is based on a very simple mechanic that, as previously mentioned, is built on the foundation of two players working in tandem to achieve the same goal. Using the left thumbstick, one player controls an orange-colored ship, the other player a blue one, and both will have to contend with an oncoming series of enemies appearing in the same colors. Here's the catch: A player of one color will only be able to destroy ships of the same color by coming into contact with them. Touching enemies of the opposite color will result in instant death, so in order to progress, neither player can possibly take the reins and do all the work. Instead, both must rely upon the other for protection and participation in eliminating all of the enemy organisms. If one of you happens to slip up and get winged by an enemy, you will respawn right by your partner a few seconds later, who will be given a protective shield in your short absence since a single ship won't last long at all.

When playing with the AI or a human teammate, Schizoid sticks with the one-screen, 2-D layout. You might think that this could cause some of the usual co-op concerns, such as players fighting over the camera, but the game handles each player's independent movements quite well. When both ships are close together, the camera zooms in tighter, and when separated by a great distance (which should only be done when absolutely necessary) the camera pulls back, eventually revealing the entire level.

Levels come in a variety of shapes in Schizoid, ranging from simple large rectangular arenas, to hollow stars and hourglasses, all containing different types of barriers and obstacles. Unfortunately, the game's pace is sometimes rattled by incredibly small compact stages that can only fit about three or four different enemies, making either death or success nearly instantaneous. These sections really detract from the nature of Schizoid's gameplay, as they are just too small in scale and seem like filler items that were meant to boost the advertised 120 levels.

If you really do want to make Schizoid a private event, and the game will try to convince you otherwise, there are two single-player modes available: Wingman Bot Training and Uberschizoid. Either one will take you through a campaign containing 120 levels that are divided into a number of different chambers with seven stages each. Ten lives are supplied for every chamber, and in keeping with the teamwork theme, the lives must be shared with your partner. Once all of the lives have expired, you'll have to restart at the beginning of the chamber, but Schizoid offers a shortcut, albeit one for which you'll have to work. The game will rank you on performance with either a red or blue star when playing any of the modes, and if you complete a stage without losing any lives, a gold star will be awarded, allowing you to skip that stage during the campaign to save on lives.

Throughout Schizoid, a variety of different enemies will be hurled at you. There are general attacking Scorpios that will fly straight at your ship, circular Flitts that float in random directions but eventually turn into Shizz that neither player can destroy, and Stars, the smartest of the bunch that will avoid players of the same color but brutally stalk the other. In most levels, a Breeder will lay eggs that morph into the enemies just listed. Other enemies will make an appearance further into the game, and they're made up of an amalgamation of both red and blue colors, requiring coordination from each player to get the job done. For example, one character of blue color will spew out red plasma, requiring the red player to shield his blue teammate so that they may go in for the kill.

Once loads of enemies arrive on the screen in the later stages — and I do not exaggerate — the game becomes a somewhat elegant dance between the two ships, as each must dash in front and behind the other to slowly destroy the massive blob of mixing and twitching red and blue. In some cases, it will be necessary to eliminate certain Breeders as soon as the level gets started, or else you could find yourself horribly outnumbered by one predominant color, which means only one ship can stop them while the other can do nothing but sit idly by and pray.

Luckily, Schizoid offers a series of power-ups to deal with the encroaching mob of enemies. In classic cooperative fashion, each of the power-ups must first be picked up by one player and can only be activated by coming into contact with the other. Some of these extra abilities include a smart bomb that destroys nearby enemies, a speed boost for added mobility, and a razor wire tether connecting the two teammates that can be used to enrapture and destroy any opponent, even through barriers.

Remember how I said the gameplay is like a dance? Well, when it comes to the Wingman Bot Training mode, you're going to be the one leading most of the time. Your AI partner may be somewhat sufficient in the early levels, but it really can't stand up to a human mind when getting into the later missions that demand much more precise teamwork, and you especially can't rely upon it in scenarios that pit the intelligence as your sole protector. The worst instances occurred in stages where the level was divided into sections that could only be reached through a portal. The AI ship is far from independent and tends to simply hover when you draw enough distance from it, so when it comes to a portal, the AI is incapable of using the device to follow you, leaving it completely immobilized, and in Schizoid, lone-wolfing it is definitely not an option.

Now if you happen to think that you can do better than the AI or just don't trust anyone else but yourself when it comes to co-op, both ships can be controlled by one player in Uberschizoid mode using the left thumbstick for the blue ship and the right for the red. Even though Schizoid provides two panic lines that point to each ship's respective side so that you can remember which stick controls what, Uberschizoid will probably only work for players who already happen to be ambidextrous, as it should toss any other person into mental oblivion.

While it is a wild challenge, the single-player controls are ultimately the best proof of Schizoid's strictly cooperative nature. Multiplayer-wise, the game offers local and online play with ranked leaderboards, but the one main drawback is that any progression earned in single- or multiplayer will not overlap, so when you do finally decide to play with a friend, it's back to square one. Since the game's design was built solely around co-op, you would think that the choice of levels when playing with another person would be more fluid.

The best way to sum up Schizoid's graphics would be to call the game Biology Wars: Bacteria Evolved>, as all of the enemies and environments look like the single-celled organisms that you would see squiggling about under a microscope, but carry a presentation and visual flair that's not unlike Bizarre Creation's own arcade game. The ships have a rather simplistic appearance when viewed at a distance, but when the camera zooms in close, their detailed mechanical inner workings become visible. The colors of Schizoid, despite mainly being red and blue, are very luminous, and each expiration of an enemy or player is marked by a visually intense explosion that will leave you blinking repeatedly for a few seconds afterward. The game only supports one soundtrack whose quirky techno-rock style is suitable, but it may get a bit annoying after a few hours.

If the current blitz of two-player-focused titles has signaled the ascent of cooperative gaming into its own genre, then Schizoid is a prime example of it. Unlike full retail titles that can sometimes involve each gamer having to invest in a copy, Schizoid only requires another controller for some of the most accessible team-based gameplay around. The single-player modes, on the other hand, feel like half-baked alternatives to the game's true purpose; the AI partner becomes completely incompetent during the second half of the game, which can try your patience; and the Uberschizoid mode will completely obliterate what's left of your brain. Those who have a reliable gaming comrade on hand will find Schizoid to be a very rewarding cooperative romp, even in the face of some derivative level design. Just don't expect to feel the magic if you're the only one playing.

Score: 8.2/10

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