Tony Wilkins reviews one of the classic arcade shooters from the late 1980s, Xenon 2 Megablast
The 1980s were awash with vertical scrolling shoot’em ups. There were hundreds of titles because the limited processing power of game consoles those days only really allowed for these kinds of games. They more often than not followed the format of a space fighter having to destroy countless enemies running down the screen with the player able to move around a continuously moving map of obstacles. Sadly the vast majority were so similar you could be forgiven for believing they were all part of the same series.
Years of this prompted game developers to try and distinguish their own products in some way by introducing special moves or weapons but for me the pinnacle of this type of game arrived in 1989. The Bitmap Brothers took all the lessons learned from gamer’s frustrations with this type of genre and produced Xenon 2 Megablast. At first glance it looks like the countless other types out there but soon you get a feel that this is different.
Firstly the animation, for a game destined for 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, is excellent. Rather than just being objects to be destroyed the enemies are almost all fully animated in some fashion giving the impression these things are making an effort to move. The same goes for a few of the power ups that rotate surprisingly smoothly. The player’s ship starts off as quite a basic looking little craft similar to the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica (sadly however it doesn’t look like the badass ship on the cover). As you progress through the game however you get to acquire add-ons that give your vessel awesome firepower causing the screen to explode with enemies buying the proverbial farm. While this was not unique to Xenon 2 the sheer range of options coupled with the smooth 8/16-bit animation made it stand apart.
Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of Xenon 2 Megablast is the ability to force the scrolling screen to move backwards. In 2014 this seems quite insignificant but back then it gave the player freedom not really seen on previous titles. It was still limited in that going backwards was slower and the ship never stopped facing forward but it became an integral part of the gameplay with the player often having to chose to go up the left side or right of the screen then finding themselves in a dead end and having to go back. To really emphasize this new feature one of the first add-ons is a rearward firing weapon to attack any enemies you missed that are waiting for you to come back.
Addictively simple fun.
Thanks for reading…