Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Top 30 Vertical Shooters for the Atari 2600 #24


I'm ready to take the heat for this one, but you have to hear me out.

Imagine for just a second that you are 8 years old and you have never heard of, much less seen, a Zaxxon arcade machine.  Now imagine that you get Zaxxon for your Atari 2600.  It's this somewhat blocky scrolling vertical shooting game that has two different levels made of two different areas separated by a space battle and culminating in a boss fight with a giant robot packing a missile on its shoulder.  Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?  Remember, you have no idea that this Zaxxon is supposed to represent the other Zaxxon that is floating out there in the ether beyond your perception.

See?!  Zaxxon for the VCS isn't so bad after all, is it?

Sure the graphics are really, really blocky and the color palette very primary.  Sure, the view is more third person straight not third person isometric.  But if we look past those things, what we have here isn't really a terrible shooting game.  Consider this:  the game features multiple kinds of enemy targets at varying degrees of altitude.  It features barriers that block your progress that also vary in altitude, some only passable by a narrow window.  It features a fuel gauge that must be replenished by collecting fuel tanks in the planetary areas because once you are out in space you are on your own!  It features a boss fight at the end of every other level that, while pretty easy, takes more hits to win every time around.  It features a space battle that pits you against an enemy fleet.  Then consider that every round the game speed gets faster and faster.

I'm telling you, this is a better game than your natural arcade bias will let you believe. Zaxxon may not be its arcade counterpart, but when you evaluate it for what it is, its not bad at all.  The main problems are the aforementioned Playskool graphics and some really shoddy collision detection.  There are times in the game when a gun turret will scroll off the bottom of the screen and if you are at matching altitude you will be destroyed.  This can also apply to fuel tanks or other ground targets.  There is also the yellow boulder looking thing that clearly has a shadow, but is considered a ground target.  My other main complaint is that taking out the Zaxxon Robot is a little too easy.  The sweet spot is at the altitude where the nose of your fighter's shadow blinks.  This is also the same altitude as the barrier just before the battle, so if you just stay there you are set.  Blast away and Zaxxon falls.

I will also say that the difficult ramps at an alarming rate.  Twice through the fortresses and the game starts moving so fast that it is all you can do just to clear the barriers and stay fueled.  Blasting targets becomes an optional proposition.  This makes the game extremely hard surprisingly quickly.

So Zaxxon is not without its flaws, but as long as you don't give it a one-for-one comparison to its source material, I think you can objectively say that it earns its place on this list.

My Top Zaxxon Score: 90,100

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