Allow me to preface this review by stating a couple of things. First, I am admittedly late to the X S.E.E.D ($1.00) party, as its release was during that nebulous time I had stepped away from the site. Two, and this part may come as a shock and slap to the face of other XBLIG developers that like to phone in generic platformers, shooters, and so on; X S.E.E.D‘s rather ingenious idea comes from the five-year-old kid of developer Wide Pixel Games. Yeah, what has your kid done lately?
The game’s plot is threadbare, concerning government conspiracies and cover-ups, aggressive plant life on a remote island, so on and so forth. The gist is a plant-based, side-scrolling shooter. Sure, you can reference a certain movie, or make the obvious joke of how you’re spreading your seed all over the place, but the concept is novel and deliciously green-thinking, which pacifists and hippies should latch onto. Throw down your guns and let Mother Nature take center-stage, they’d say, until the plant grows fangs and starts launching fireballs.
Luckily, the protagonist can wield those seeds in battle like they were guns, planting (pun very much intended) them as turrets and tower defense-style protective vines. Your vegetarian arsenal starts off modest and grows as you defeat new plants-gone-wild, giving you access to more varied forms of fire like diagonal and heat-seeking shots. Some upgrades prove more useful than others, but all will give you more options in fighting the increasingly tough / just-out-of-reach enemies.
Both the visuals and gameplay skew heavily retro, something that wouldn’t look out of place on a Genesis or NES, with the difficulty of an old platformer to match. You’re given three lives to finish the game, no more no less, and all hits you take are fatal. There are no continues either (that both adds to the challenge and masks X S.E.E.D’s brevity), which can be frustrating if you happen to die near the end. In its defense, that difficulty is more memory-based than due to any harsh design. Finding a good angle, swapping between seeds quickly, and knowing which type is needed for a given situation is generally enough for you to do well.
In that vein, the game is ideal for speed runs, putting you on the clock and tallying high scores (for which two different endings are possible). Subsequent playthroughs will show you ‘shortcuts’ you may have missed. Even the boss fights can be exploited in this manner, enabling you to sometimes win without ever stepping foot in the ‘boss chamber’ proper. However, a few issues are present. Each time you perish, you’re whisked back to the entrance of the stage for no apparent reason. Enemies do not respawn when you do, so it makes for a potentially long walk back to the point you left off. It’s also easy to lose track of hostile fire in the middle of the action (due to similar colors), and unseen enemies can ‘pop up’ during boss fights, both leading to regrettable (and yeah, cheap) deaths.
Even with those minor annoyances, X S.E.E.D deserves a look for the classic style and clever angle to the gameplay (an expanded sequel is reportedly in the works). It also teaches us all an important life lesson: Parenthood can be profitable when you shake down your children for every original IP they can think of.