The Many Faces of  . . . Zaxxon

by Alan Hewston

 Iím making a focus on what game titles to review based on their 20th anniversary  Weíll start with the 1982 arcade game Zaxxon.  Oh what a relief I did not pick E.T., the Extra Terrestrial (or how I fell into holes over and over again looking for Reeseís Pieces) Ė since this week marks the big screenís 20th anniversary  For the most part, I hope to acquire & review the popular games from 1982 this year and 1983 next year etc.  Iíll still eventually cover the pre Ď82 titles like Frogger & Centipede (if I get all vers).  Too bad I didnít think of this sooner!?!  Thereís no time left to review all of the Ď82 games in í02, but if Tom gives me the bandwidth to do 2 compact reviews per issue (those with fewer versions) Iíll cover most of them.  [See also RT# 14 for Doug Saxonís MF of Zaxxon & RT#s 27-30 for Tomís Zaxxon short story].

 Zaxxon gave us a major change from the typical space shooter and provided a better 3-D perspective (via an isometric three-quarters view) than ever before.  The use of shadows, an altimeter bar and enemy fighters moving in 6 DOF (Engineering term for Degrees of Freedom - no not from Kevin Bacon) were the final touches that make this perspective work.  Iím sure you know all about flying, shooting and dodging the enemy in this huge hit and its sequel Super Zaxxon Ė so letís get to the home reviews.

Arcade game by Sega/Gremlin 1982
Classic Home releases: '83 by Coleco: Intellivision, Atari 2600 & Colecovision; Commodore 64 (cart '83 Sega & then a late disk release '84 Synapse, Peter Adams); Datasoft in '83 on disk/cassette: Atari 8-bit (Ron S. Fortier et al), Apple II (John Garcia) & CoCo (Steve Bjork).  Atari 8 bit & 5200 cart versions in Sega cases (coded by Datasoft). Also, rumor mill TI-99 (by Datasoft, 8K was to large for cart and canceled). Categories:  Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls Sequels:  Super Zaxxon, late 1982 by Sega, and a PB Board Game. Categories:  Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Sequels:  Super Zaxxon, late 1982 by Sega, and a PB Board Game.


ďWow check out the cool Zaxxon Board game!

Tom should review all of these classic VG board games.Ē

Have Nots: Apple II (N/A)
The Apple II family has a HUGE library of disk-only games, but not too many are arcade ports.  As youíll see in upcoming reviews, the AP II was very successful and often the first version written for home computer-only games - many that became hits. Iíve not been blessed with having found one (dirt cheap) yet, but I did play on them some in my youth. Datasoft has done a fine job on every port Iíve ever seen, so I expect this version to be pretty darn good.

Have Nots: CoCo (N/A)
Similarly, I have no CoCo, but there were a fair number of carts, and also some disk-only arcade ports - like Zaxxon.  The bulk of itís game library are CoCo unique games.   See my interview/site review  (probably next issue) for more about the CoCo.  The Radio Shack Color Computer version of Zaxxon is made by Datasoft and is reported to be one of the better CoCo action games ever officially licensed.

 
ďMany of the Zaxxon faces indeedĒ

Have Nots: Intellivision (29)
I expected this version to just beat out the 2600, but I forgot that Coleco made sure that their version was the best Ė so this one suffered the most from itís potential.  Well actually the Inty is as good or better than the 2600 if you ignore my Control score.  The Controls are effective (7), & 7 ties my highest score ever for the Inty.  But what good is a shooter when the controller doesnít have a real fire button? The Gameplay.  Hmmn. With so many variations or options or features missing from system to system, I made up a separate score sheet (not included) to detail the Gameplay for each version Ė how much it adds to or subtracts from the Zaxxon experience.  The Gameplay here is good (6), but if you never saw it before, you may not know that it is Zaxxon. With a headĖon view instead of three-quarters view, it looks more like River Raid with altitude added.  Most of the enemies are included but not the same with the head-on view and fewer obstacles to go over, under or between.  Fortunately Coleco added randomness so that every game plays differently.  The focus on each enemy having unique abilities in attack, movement, position & height, when combined make for a nice mixture of challenges which Zaxxon is known for. The lack of scenery on the asteroids makes it play and look very foreign, as if everything is moving at you instead of you moving at them.  Only the 3 Coleco versions offer the 4 start-level options for either 1 or 2 players, and a bonus life earned at 10K.  They also have the altimeter and fuel gauge, but there are no rockets, mobots, and no crosshairs in the space battle.  They added Dodgerguns that appear to move (L/R) towards you at least most of the time.  The Graphics are average (5) but could have been better.  See below my Atari 2600 comments on the Graphics - which also apply here - but the Inty is better. The Addictiveness is good (6) with the standard Inty pause button combo and the large amount of variety, but I get frustrated playing a shooter with 4 tiny non-fire buttons.  The Sound is mediocre (5), but improves with the added effects and variety in later levels.

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (30)
Sega or Datasoft let me down here.  The graphics on the manual, box and cart label are beautiful and most prominently show the rockets launching from the asteroids.  But they are not listed in the 8-bit manual and Iíve yet to see them show up in the game either.  Aw címon, is this false advertising, or am I just not good enough to see them in play?  Again, being the same game as the Atari 8-bit, the Graphics, Gameplay and Sound all match the 8-bit (see below).  The Controls are effective (7), but really frustrating when you need to dive or climb full tilt, and often combined with L/R but the sticks decide to only go up or down part of that time.  Dooh!  I should have scored Controls lower, but you can adjust your strategy to play it safe knowing this, and maybe still enjoy the game.  But these 2 ports also seem to play the hardest, and fastest for no apparent reason and that surely hurts the Addictiveness, which is fair (5), but could be much better. Yep, youíll get frustrated or tired of this version first, if not right away.

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (31)
I think that this version was the first completed by Coleco and typical of their arcade ports, the non-CV versions were nowhere near as impressive.  The Controls are perfect (10), easy to do when you only move in 8 directions and have one fire button needed.  The Sound is mediocre (5) as they tried to capture most of the arcade effects, but many sounds are annoying instead.  The Graphics are marginal (4), for looking like Zaxxon, but pretty good relative to a typical 2600 game.  Likewise, the 2600 version is played from a 2-D head-on view.  The best effect is probably the space battle with the enemy fighters getting bigger and bigger as they close in.  But unfortunately this stage is only in 2-D as you can only move left and right, no up/down.  IMHO this is the game element / graphic effect most sorely missed from the arcade, where the fighters move in all 6 directions (I/O/U/D/L/R) and in packs and formations and even kamikaze.  They also skipped having an enemy plane counter, or subtracting planes shot on the asteroid.  Overall the graphics are limited with few to no asteroid details, big, blocky sprites, minimal use of colors, sprite overlapping and explosion problems, plus the ever-popular limited number of on-screen objects.  The Gameplay is decent (6) and all the same comments from the Inty apply here as well.

The Addictiveness is fine (6), and is helped by the variety of each game, but there is no pause in the action either.  Note that it is not bad game, more like average for all the 2600 games Iíve reviewed thus far.

Bronze Medal: Atari 8 bit (34)
Although there are still 3 versions better than this one it still wins the Bronze, tying my worst composite score yet for the 8-bit.  My main concern besides the hurried, way too fast pace is that the Graphics are only good enough (6).  Everything is a bit too big, making it lose detail & # of objects & down-field distance, playability,& variety. There are poor detections / collisions of sprites, your shots are hard to see and there are really dull colors throughout.  The Sound is fine (6), but nothing special as several of the enemies and their sound effects are absent.  Fortunately the Controls are flawless (10).  The Gameplay, is good enough (6) to play, but surely the worst.  The hurried asteroid speed continues on to your face-off with Zaxxon giving you almost no chance, just luck.  Then there are no start level options, no rocket launches, mobot formations, crosshairs, guided missiles, fewer enemy planes (with less or no creativity in their attacks).  Then, there is no up/down motion on the space scenes and the ships are always the same size, making the space phase clearly worse than the Inty/2600. The Addictiveness is fine (6), with a pause, but all the above problems make you want to quit.  I also forgot to mention that there are significantly more force fields and walls to overcome on these versions & way too difficult to enjoy - No points scoring, just duck and cover.  I could only get my disk version (Datasoft?) to work on the 800, not the XL - even with a translator disk.

Silver Medal Colecovision (42)
A huge step up from the pack brings us to the version with the best, outstanding (9) Gameplay, and the one Iíve personally played the most.  All elements are included & done well, save for no Dodgerguns or Satellites (see other versions).  The Controls are excellent (10), but only if you use a Y-cable or start the game with the CV controller and then quickly switch out/in an Atari controller.  Once started, you do not need any keypad functions and there is no pause, so why not try an Atari stick?  The Sound is impressive (8) and includes the best background spaceship noise - the one that varies with your altitude.  The Graphics are cool (7), but the details of the asteroids are missing and the colors are also boring.  The Addictiveness would be superior with a pause button, but is still enjoyable (8).  This version is really not to far from the winner Ė so a little better detail and programming would have got it there.

Gold Medal:  Commodore 64 (42 on disk by Synapse & 43 on cart by Sega)
OK, so there are 2 official versions here, which is an unfair advantage, but only one can win a medal.  Iíll start with the disk version, which scores just as well as the Coleco and strangely was a remake one year later by Synapse - not Sega, Coleco or Datasoft.  The Graphics are sharp (8) with loads of detail, very smooth scrolling and a good bit of color added.  Both C64 versions have a star-field in the space battle.  The Sound is crisp (8), and includes effects for everything, but some seem odd.  The Gameplay is impressive (8) and better than the cart version, as it includes everything the CV has except for the mobot formations that precede the arrival of Zaxxon. There are no start level options for either C64 port, but theyíve added a satellite (worth bonus points) to the space battle stage.  The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8) with a pause button (F7), but you start the asteroid over with every death.  The Controls are excellent (10) for this and the cart version as well.

 C64 Cart Version: The Controls are actually better than the other versions as you can really make it dive/climb fast.  Despite a few missing Gameplay elements, this is the clear winner Ė as it scores the best at everything else.  The Graphics are superb (9) with packed detail everywhere.  The Sound is outstanding (9) & everything is most excellent.  The Addictiveness is also enjoyable (8) and the pause button (run/stop) is good.  I was a bit harsh and dropped the Gampelay score to very good (7), as it is complete other than lacking the start level options, crosshairs, and (Iíve yet to see any) guided missiles - maybe they come later.  The Sega version may also available in bootleg format on disk. Special thanks to Mat Allen for making sure that I did not forget to try both C64 versions and include them here.

 A final note about all 7+ versions is that some gameplay elements do not show up in level one, so you need to get further along to enjoy them.  In every port the game would be significantly better if they gradually added enemies and difficulty for about 4 levels, or so, because once all the features are in place & youíve hit the top speed - Zaxxon become very repetitive.  Thus no version earned a 9 or 10 in Addictiveness.

 Come back next month when Iíll review the Many Faces of Mr .Do for the Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit, Colecovision, and Commodore 64, and hopefully also Megamania for the Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit & 5200 and Commodore 64 (if official - mine says í85 Activision Tony Taylor using Gamemaker).

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