Zax on, Zax off
Do you remember Zaxxon escape? No, neither do I. Apparently Sega released it in 1982 when ‘Kids everywhere saved their quarters to invade the evil robot ZAXXON’s space fortress’. I’m assuming that was a crucial plot point of the game and not some underground movement where teenagers combined pocket money to afford the entrance to a brand new Brooklyn night club. I’ve also realised that in 1982 I was two years old. I don’t know many two year olds who hang around arcades. Not any more anyway. Things just aren’t like they used to be.
Zaxxon Escape is an arcadey portrait style infinite flyer where you play as a ship (space, not cruise) who’s mission is to escape Zaxxon’s asteroid city – a fortress made up of a maze of tight corridors. I mention that it’s a portrait shooter because it’s weird. All shooters should be played in landscape. This is a FACT. It’s also a FACT that this isn’t really a shooter, but I refuse to acknowledge it.
Your ship flies automatically while you tilt as appropriate to guide it through various obstacles taking the form of gaps in the scenery that can only be traversed by tilting diagonally or vertically. Get it wrong and get smashed – no, not getting drunk, crashing your ship, silly. So in order to succeed in this game, you’re jumping through hoops. Literally. You also swipe up, down, left or right when arrows turn green in front of you in order to quickly change direction through the labyrinth, and collect coins to spend on upgrades such as warp speed, autopilot- which steers you through the tricky sections for a short time, and invulnerability which makes you pass straight through them. How thoroughly decent of the evil Zaxxon to leave money floating around as well as a handy Off-Licence. Maybe he’s not so bad after all.
With this being more of an endless flyer than a shooter, the actual shooting parts are underwhelming, even an afterthought. It doesn’t really carry any real weight and the sounds of your lazers firing is muted at best.. You only really shoot when you need to destroy a door opening up a new pathway for you to fly through WHAT KIND OF SHOOTER IS THIS?! Answer: It’s not. Let it go Kev.
Zaxxon Escape is more about twitch reactions and concentration. When the flying gets tough and you’ve got to negotiate through a killer stretch of scenery tilting your device diagonally followed by vertically, back to horizontal, then quickly swipe to change direction all in a matter of seconds without room to breathe, you’ll be glad you’re not on a rush hour train in front of scores of people. Then you’ll realise you are.
Controls are on point. They’re simple, but in order for a game like this to work, they need to…work. There’s no use in attempting to escape some evil alien lair if when you tilt to dodge an oncoming wall, you end up plastered all over it. Particularly impressive is the swipe to change direction. Arrows which show you which way to go are red on approach, but when the game allows you to choose direction, they turn green. At this point, you swipe to keep going.
They turn green pretty late though, so it’s comforting that even though your input sometimes feels like it hasn’t been registered because the ship doesn’t change direction in the split second you swipe, it never lets you down. Unless you know, you’re crap.
Graphically it looks like a decent enough 3D effort by today’s standards, but levels get boring quickly due to an endless stream of identical grey corridors. Once you start playing it won’t come as a surprise to you that I had great difficulty choosing screenshots that displayed any kind of variety. Zaxxon certainly needs a new interior designer, tha’s for sure. It’s no wonder you want to escape. But there’s no denying that back in 1982, as a graphical feat, this would’ve been considered pretty amazing. Mind you, as a two year old, I found orange peel amazing. 1982 this aint.
Like the best auto games, this gets more addictive the further you get, because the further you get, the more you score. It’s merciless in that once you die, you have to start right from the beginning. No checkpoints for you matey. I can definitely see this being part of the original design to maximise quarter usage in the under 13’s.
And so we get to the crunch. A sadistic, unforgiving level of difficulty. This must have been made in the 80’s.
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