Zeit2 is a sidescrolling Shoot ‘em Up developed by Brightside Games and published by Ubisoft. It’s available on the XBLA for 800 microsoft points.

XBLA games are frequently prone to being viewed as “casual” because of their price point, and as such it’s easy to assume any XBLA title will have a casual playing style to it; Zeit2 does not. The game has a tutorial where they explain how the game works and how to play, along with supplementary tips throughout the Arcade experience, but the handholding quickly ends and Zeit2 shows itself to be a top shelf challenge worthy of any sidescrolling shoot ‘em up lover.

Zeit2 is the latest of many games to build on the Defender model, where a ship controlled by the player fires projectiles at a variety of enemy “ships” (I’m not entirely sure what they are in this game, evil white beasties?) leading up to a boss level, presumably to save the world in some fashion or another. Zeit2 builds off that simple concept by adding a time manipulation function, but it’s no gimmick — time management is absolutely key to playing, beating, and even enjoying this game. To add to the challenge, whenever enemies pass your ship, it takes damage. The goal is still to get as many points as possible, but a simple omission could cost you your life.

This game isn’t an easy one, but there’s always the option to replay anything you didn’t do well in, or even failed at, and learning how to deal with certain situations, mastering the time control method and the score bonus strategies is key to really loving this game.

Here’s what we liked:

Scores are Earned, not Donated: This game can be unforgiving in many of its game modes, not just the Arcade. Posting a high score in any event can be something laudable, and unlike many XBLA games where leaderboards are simply there because almost every XBLA title has them, the leaderboards are where the payoff and feeling of success come from in Zeit2. Breaking the top 100 is something to smile at, the top 25 something to cheer at, and the top 10 something to pose gallantly atop a fountain with a golden light shining upon you.

Take Nothing for Granted: So many games have features or abilities you can use that are for just one level or in some cases almost entirely irrelevant. Everything that tutorial tells you in Zeit2 is something you need to pay attention to, something you’ll use in one way or another. Be it to rewind time for survival, blast a massive amount of enemies with a shockwave, or fast forward for more points, take nothing for granted because if you aren’t using it, chances are you should be.

Good Luck Getting out of your TV: This game sucks you in something impressive. There’s a grand seven game modes to choose from, each different and including a cool meta-game mode called “Challenge” that gives you challenges from the game to complete and boost your score amongst your friends. But on top of that, no matter what mode you’re playing there’s so many things on screen, so many decisions to make, so many key opportunities to find and “Ah hah!” moments to capitalize on that once you’ve figured out how to appropriate deal with any situation, you’ll never want to leave. Granted getting to that point is a bit of a hike, but once you reach that plateau you can stare out onto the expanse of intense gameplay and love it.

And here’s what we didn’t like:

Ever try Ice Climbing?: The learning curve for this game is incredibly steep, and so is the difficulty. At first glance, the game seems really straightforward, and the time manipulation is simply to get enemies you couldn’t get because they were so far away, but a few levels past that and things start getting incredibly intense. Managing time and all the varieties of enemies can be frustrating, and it’s frequent that defeat will feel not only constant but expected. The game picks up after mastery is achieved, but… it’s quite the hike.

Bullet Hell-no: Normally shoot ‘em ups have some sort of “bullet hell” mechanic where stationary guns or the like fire projectiles back at the player. Zeit2 sometimes manages that aspect of gameplay well, making fun puzzle-paths to weave through in some levels. However, it’s when bullet hell and the already intricate gameplay mechanics the game focuses around combine that the game can get incredibly irritating. True fans of bullet hell or shmup games will love this aspect, and they’ll love the boss battles (which primarily consist of bullet hell mechanics), but the game’s mechanics just aren’t tailored very well to the boss fights, and so all the things you’ve learned getting to bosses confuse you into thinking those fights play the same way. They don’t.

This game wasn’t easy, and there are many times when I was upset with a certain level, and oh how loudly my controller clanged with my table. But every time I bounced back, really grinded my butt into my chair and focused on the insanity unfolding in front of me and beat whatever was holding me back, I felt immensely satisfied. Zeit2 is like robbing a bank; figuring out how to do it is difficult, then actually doing it is difficult, but if you get it right, the reward is immensely satisfying. Leaderboards in Zeit2 will keep it alive, much like that of the Raskulls and Geometry Wars single player modes, because underneath everything this game is always about high scores. The bosses might not fit well with the rest of the game, but they only show up in a few modes, so if you want to play the game in an entirely different environment, that option is there for you.

Zeit2 is not for everyone, and it’s certainly not “casual” by any means, but if you really want to put your ability to make quick decisions, figure out complex situations with simple solutions, and maximize score opportunities (three of the most important facets of a gamer’s arsenal) to the test, get this game.

And something soft to throw your controller at.

Score: Try it