The launch of Xenon represents that rare and special thing in the computer games world - something completely new and important.
OK, I know what you're thinking. A scrolling shoot-'em-up with metallic effects where you build your weaponry by picking up letters... new?
Yes, that's exactly what I mean, it is new. New because after years of software houses telling you that you can "take the coin-op home with you", Xenon is the first game that really looks and feels like a coin-op. Not a state of the art bells and whistles coin-op a la Afterburner - but certainly a reasonable blaster that you wouldn't think twice about pumping a few ten pences into if you got rained on at the seaside.
Xenon is also new because it is the first game to be launched as a home game and a coin-op simultaneously. I must admit I was a little worried about this. Just imagine it - you are blasting away trying to get onto the next level (Not easy in this game, believe me!) when you decide you have had enough. Right, that's it, and you pop down the pub. No sooner are you through the door when you clock a new coin-op bleeping away - there's literally no escape from Xenon.
The coin-op will appear under Mastertronic's Arcadia label and the Atari ST and Amiga versions can be found in Melbourne House boxes - not also part of the Mastertronic empire.
What characterises Xenon as a home game is the blurb on the box. It tells you why you have to kill 'em as opposed to the coin-op which simply tells you what buttons to use to waste the insect-like aliens.
The action starts when Captain Xod (Digitised pic of programmer, Eric Matthews) comes up on the communications screen and informs you that you are entering 'Sector One'. Xod's in trouble, y'see - the Xenites are about to finish him so it's down to you to race through the sixteen levels of the game and save his bacon.
There is a lot more to the plot than that - the entire history of the universe in fact, told in the most over-the-top sci-fi language you've ever heard. There's loads of garbage about how the universe is going to collapse in on itself and 'Spatial Holo Networks' - highbrow stuff.
Xenon is a hybrid shoot-'em-up. Vertically scrolling and incorporating elements from Slap Fight, Terra Cresta and Xevious. Your small, nippy space fighter can transform at the shake of the stick into a ground attack craft - or fly low over the cityscape taking out the enemy. Flight is best - you move quicker and can take out the deadly, orange ball spewing nasties at a safe enough distance to stop you weakening your craft. You can't stay airborne constantly as certain of the nasties crawl along the planet surface and cannot be destroyed from above. There are also certain obstacles that need to be cleared.
Some games start off easily and then toughen up after the second level or so. None of this shilly-shallying around in Xenon.
You are right in the heart of the action from the very start. A third of the way through the level you are confronted by a huge, beetle-like alien that is easily five times the size of your ship.
Several direct hits have to be registered before an orange ball develops in the centre of the monster, pulsates, and finally blows allowing you to pass.
The ground-based domes are lethal - constantly opening and closing - spitting out energy sapping balls.
Building your ship is crucial... and fun! Pick up the letters to add wing lazers, a rotating guardian ship, side lazers, diagonal lazers, super flame throwers. If you collect them all your ship becomes one moving dispenser of mega death.
The game has an annoying way of levelling the odds once you get to the giant alien at the end of levels. It strips you of your extra weapons - leaving just the wing lazers.
There is nothing particularly original about Xenon. It's just the way that it is done that makes it special and sets it apart. You get the impression when you are playing it that the designers plotted every single ground installation and alien flight path with cunning smiles on their faces - probably chuckling amongst themselves and saying, "The bastards will never get through this..."
It's tough, you see. One of those games that is never actually meant to be completed. If you clock this you've really got something to crow about. I think Melbourne House should get badges printed and send them out to the people who manage it.
Xenon is an interesting point of comparison between the Atari ST and Amiga. Both versions are brilliant - but the Amiga is better. It's faster and the music just wipes the floor with the Atari ST. Constantly changing and reacting to the joystick and featuring sampled guitar riffs and tremendous explosions. Melbourne are promising Spectrum and C64 versions of the game - but I wouldn't buy until you see the C&VG review.
I am not entirely sure the design of the game is strong enough for it to hold up on those machines.
It's difficult for me to tell you how good Xenon is. All the cliches are too well-worn. You know what I mean, statements like "It's worth buying an Atari ST just to play this" - that kind of crap. All I will say is that in five years of reviewing computer games, this is the best shoot-'em-up I've ever played.
This *is* arcade entertainment to play at home, and no bull.