Sunday 9 January 2011

Zaxxon (Atari 2600)

Zaxxon is a bad game. Sure it looks nice for a 1982, but to me the constant struggle to negotiate the scenery and adjust the height of your ship makes the game almost unplayable. Despite this, it was brought to almost every system imaginable in the 1980s (I've briefly mentioned the DOS version in the past).

Of course the fun thing about that sentence is that some early 1980s consoles and computers were extremely basic in nature. Unable to render isometric graphics this Atari 2600 port has the player face forwards. Is it an impovement?

The Atari 2600 was still a profitable system in 1983, even though it would soon trigger a North American video game crash putting hundreds of people out of work and threatening the industry as a whole. This is one of two releases of Zaxxon that had to scrap its main selling point for compatibility reasons. The other was released for the Mattel Intellivision, and is probably slightly better as a result. I'm not hunting down Intellivision emulators to find out for sure.

So what's to say about Zaxxon on the 2600? Well, the perspective has clealy changed. I'm not sure if it still counts as AXONometric projection, but it's definitely an improvement in the visibility department. You can see what's coming, and you can also see exactly where you need to be to avoid it.

But of course, that doesn't equate to being safe from Zaxxon's flaws. The 2600 struggles to render this perspective too, and although static obstacles such as walls are less common, they can still present a hindrance thanks to the way they jerk by. It's still not entirely clear how tall these objects are and what height you'll need to be to pass them until the last second or two, so the game still punishes you for being human, but because there's less of them, the game is more focused on shooting and destroying enemies, like any shoot-'em-up should be.

Of course, the downside to playing this game on the Atari 2600 is the simplistic, blocky graphics, and arguably from this perspective it becomes nothing but a glorified Space Invaders or Galaxian, but there's no denying this version is playable, if a little off-putting thanks to the 2600's limitations.

Like the original version of the game, it has fortress and space bits, with the latter restricting movement in the Y direction. The 2600 version struggles to render a lot of scenery, but you do occasionally see a satellite dish and barrels, so it still looks vaguely like Zaxxon. I do occasionally enjoy a quirky 2600 game because it's good to know you can still have fun with what is essentially nothing.

Can I recommend this over the original? Probably not, because the amount of cuts the 2600 version had to make mean the game isn't particularly faithful, but I can certainly recommend it over a lot of other early computer ports of the game. Don't forget, the Atari 2600 was designed mainly with Pong in mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment