Friday, 5 October 2012



Zaxxon for the Dragon 32, an arcade shooter which I'm not fond of, ported to a computer I've never used. Sounds like a fine recipe for success.

Yes it's time for more poorly documented home computers to add to the collection. This time, in a spectacular feat of imagination, we have two Welsh machines called the Dragon 32 and Dragon 64, created by Dragon Data Limited in the early 1980s. Identical aside from differences in RAM, the two were crushed by the BBC Micro (in a move that demonstrates the strengths of the union) and ZX Spectrum (in a move that demonstrates the strengths of the... uh... ZX Spectrum).

With a maximum of two or three years of service, the Dragons are often seen as relics of the past, with little practical use for consumers of today. With architecture frighteningly similar to the original TRS-80 CoCo (though not as good, because I hear the fancy composite modes don't agree with PAL TVs), there's little to gawk at from a hardware perspective either. The only interesting thing about this machine was its marketing scheme aimed at British farmers. Manage your cows with a Dragon 32... and then Thatcher won't let the kids drink the produce or something.

So why do I care? Well, Sega of America, in a stunning display of non-existent research, has decided to make a sequel to the 1982 arcade classic Zaxxon without utilising axonometric projection. While announcing the project ("Zaxxon Escape" if you're interested), the subsidiary briefly detailed Zaxxon's history, including its plethora of home conversions and the board game by Milton Bradley, and with this, "confirmation" that the Dragon 32 port is an official thing.

I had my doubts SoA were accurate, because the Amiga version they claim certainly isn't theirs, but with a lack of interest over the Dragon computers, the only way to confirm or deny this allegation is to boot up a copy and see what the title scren says. Both the Dragons and the TRS-80 family were given their fair share of unofficial clones of this game, so my original assumption was that Dragon 32 Zaxxon was far from legitimate, but it turns out Sega were correct... even if chances none of their employees have ever seen this machine in action.

Developed and published by DataSoft, Dragon 32 Zaxxon is exactly what you would expect from a game matching the above description - a fully licensed but worsened version of Zaxxon for use in the home. But the details surrounding this copy are annoyingly sketchy - thanks to a lack of photos or scans, there's nothing to prove this isn't the TRS-80 CoCo version (also by DataSoft) in disguise - a fully plausible scenario when you consider that software was often compatible with both. So yes, while Sega of America is probably right, the lack of evidence and the fact that they're error prone mean we can't be totally sure.

I'm not a huge fan of Zaxxon. It's brilliant game design means you're forced to mash the fire button just to judge your position on the field, so I much prefer the likes of Congo Bongo for my early 80s isometric gaming fix. Though Zaxxon's visuals are certainly admirable for something from 1982, I find the gameplay pointlessly awkward and I struggle to admire its dull approach to audio when compared to some of Namco's hard-hitters in this genre. Zaxxon is a classic, but it's not a classic.

And predictably, life is worse on the Dragon 32. 4-colour RGB modes lessen the experience, and content is stripped away due to low amounts of storage space. This is a perfectly playable conversion and good for Dragon 32 standards, but you'd be foolish to think there aren't better versions out there to play. The Dragon 32 wasn't much of a games machine and emulation is more trouble than it's worth (which might explain the odd colours in these screenshots).

But I suppose it isn't surprising that I can't recommend this, as in this day and age, there's little reason to accept anything less than the arcade original. Though perhaps the only "real" Sega game to hit the Dragon 32 (discounting the Sega-owned trademark in Frogger), this stands solely an interesting novelty item, not so much as an interesting video game.


  1. That is totally the CoCo version of Zaxxon in disguise, hacked to make the game appear in color on the Dragon. Other games were done this way too (I remember seeing video of a hacked version of Donkey King that looked similar). Here's some screenshots of the original unhacked version:

    1. Lazy TRS-80 CoCo to Dragon 32 ports aren't uncommon - apparently there were companies set up solely with this purpose in mind. The difficulty is knowing which versions are official.

      But we're dealing with the UK's sixth or seventh most popular home computer of 1983. It doesn't have many fans willing to share information.

  2. It would be ironically easier if any unofficial hacks were identified via intros or hacker credits, a practice which is unfortunately frowned on nowadays outside of the modern C64 cracking scene. IMO, if a crack is needed to make the game available (outside of preservation projects that preserve the protection as well) then the cracker has an obligation to modify certain things to separate it from original media, for future historians.

  3. I think it's fairly certain that it is a hack. Zaxxon was a fairly prominent game, yet it didn't appear in the UK Dragon magazines. Datasoft didn't publish their games in Europe to my knowledge, and the Dragon preservation projects online don't list it either.

    Perhaps there is a slim chance that it was ported to the US version of the Dragon (Tano Dragon), but that's not a "Dragon 32" port then as the Sega blog puts it, and there'd be no need to change artifact colours, as they should also work on the Tano. FWIW, their list misses two official ports, the ones for PC and the one for the TRS-80.