ST Format Review
For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 133. The menu has some pretty decent music and a nice piece of art along with the traditional scrolly message.
Damn this game makes an entrance. Absolute banger of a tune, not the most exciting screens but who cares when the music is that good? Before I start I just want to say that getting good screenshots was an absolute bastard of a job, because of how the emulator works. I have to use the mouse to click a screenshot button, which is quite tricky when I’m trying to avoid being fried.
So we get to the image above and we switch back to chip music. Boooooooo! Just to get it out of the way, I had a look at the Amiga version on Youtube and the music quality is VASTLY better and carries on into the game – it seems a couple of the instruments get dropped when there’s a sound effect like shooting or an explosion. Let’s see how the ST handles it. Chip music and chip sound effects – but actually the sound effects are well thought-out and in a way they mesh better with the music than the Amiga version, despite being less spectacular.
Graphically it looks a little less smooth than the Amiga, but overall it’s still very very good, and the most important thing is that the controls are responsive. After Blood Money this really is an absolute pleasure to play. Enemies are inventive and well-drawn (it’s that Bitmap style – yes I know The Assembly Line did the code but it’s an art style that would become the Bitmaps own, with the trademark chrome look for the text and the highly-shaded greys and oranges creating a unique palette that belongs just to them). Backgrounds are beautiful with worms going into and out of tubes which pulse with their contents, and clue the player in on where the worm will re-appear. Enemies are traditional shoot-em-up fare mostly, following patterns aimed at trapping the player in an awkward spot – no AI here, just patterns. Bosses are spectacular, but you already know that.
The game throws an impressive number of sprites around the screen, eschewing the common tactic of limiting the number of bullets the player can shoot at once and still throwing a decent number of aliens plus bullets thrown in from stationary objects on the side. It’s also worth considering those worms, which as far as I can tell are made up of many small sprites (which makes them an absolute pain in the ass to take down as the collision detection with the bullets can be a bit ropey sometimes and there are so many segments to take down when even one can do significant damage on contact). At points the game rather puts you in a corner where you have no choice but to take damage, but that’s 80s difficulty for you.
Power-ups are mostly well-thought-out – the best of the early ones is the one allowing simultaneous fire to the front and rear, allowing you to deal better with enemies that swoop in a wide circle down to the bottom of the screen before coming back up to attack. Visually they’re nice and clear, and it’s a nice touch that you have to shoot the cannisters open to get them. There is of course the traditional item shop, a staple of 16-bit gaming. One modern irritant is that there’s no indication of what each of the items in the shop actually is, or does, so you have to look at the manual (which I’ve linked below). That’s just a product of its time though as I don’t think anyone else was doing it either.
Xenon 2 is about as good as an ST version could be at this point in the ST’s life. Its importance however is in some ways not directly tied to the quality of the game, which is after all good but not particularly groundbreaking in many ways. What it did was set a standard of presentation that ST gamers would come to expect. It also made people sit up and realise that samples on the ST could be really damn good.
In some ways it marks the transition from the old 8-bit values to a new 16-bit mindset, for better or worse. From here on we’d see fewer oddities like Virus, Sentinel, Captain Blood, Archipelagos, etc. We’d get Tower Of Babel soon but there was definitely a shift to a more professional output, in presentation at least, at a cost of some lost experimentation. Granted, we still had a wider and more varied gaming landscape by far than we have today, but we would never again see the magic of the 8-bit era. With all that said, I think this is probably the best brainless fun so far other than Kick-Off
Finally, as is compulsory, we finish with demonstration that, at the age of 40, I am still not a grown-up.
Havoc2049 on GAF kindly pointed out the Jaguar version so here’s a video. Graphically of course it’s gorgeous though I think it loses something without the iconic music.