zerocross.pngChristopher "udderdude" Emirzian, developer of the hardcore indie shmup XOP, has delivered yet another perfect slice of STG action in the form of Zero Cross, an arena-based arcade game that combines bullet-hell with intelligent gameplay mechanics, a variety of different mission goals and some impressive boss designs.

Instead of the usual 'rush about the screen in a circle avoiding enemies and bullets' that you'd expect from a typical arena shooter, Zero Cross has you activating shields to protect friendly structures, creating blackholes, destroying enemy bases, fighting colossal battle ships and closing rifts in the fabric of space-time. Sounds awesome? Well, to keep things brief - yes, it is.

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Working with acclaimed NEO XYX artist Gryzor, the timeless Toaplan style artwork really compliments the design and gives it a genuine coin-op feel - although to be honest you won't be able to focus too much on the graphics during play because you'll be too busy avoiding oncoming fire from all directions.

Thankfully the game has two primary game modes, Basic, with automatic 8-way/4-way fire, and an Advanced mode with mouse-aimed fire and additional hi-jack bullets that disable enemies and charge your blackhole meter. In addition to this there is an extra 'Arcade Course' that is unlocked after you've reached level 20 (concluding with a final boss battle).

Starting with the basics, the first few stages of the game introduce the different level elements and advanced controls, but don't be put off by the slow start - before long you'll be zipping in and out between intense waves of enemy flak and racking up a high score as the screen explodes around you. Progress is saved so you can continue play from the last completed stage, so you'll only have to tackle those pedestrian tutorial phases once.

Available as a browser-based 16-stage playable demo, the full 40-stage flash-based game can be purchased as a download for PC and Mac at the ludicrously cheap price-point of $2, making it pretty much an essential purchase for fans of the genre.