If anyone approaches rock celebrity status in the software world, it has to be the Bitmaps. It's something they've managed to achieve effectively in the space of three games. Speedball is their most famous, but Xenon II revives their first, a shoot'em up which turned heads for its excellent sonics and graphics when it was released over eighteen months ago.
Xenon II pursues the relentless quest for an arcade quality shoot'em up on the Amiga, and it's probably the closest yet. Like its predecessor it's a vertically scrolling blast, with an array of nasties and a ship which, when you've bolted every available addition onto it, is awesomely destructive.
The element which strikes your senses first though is its sound. The promised mix of Tim Simenon's 'Megablast' is every bit as potent as the original cut, and, married to the sound effects, makes this game to play with the sound jacked right up.
You won't find much that's new in Xenon II. The elements that have gone into it are tried and tested. It's the execution that saves it. Progress through each of the five levels is hampered by the presence of a bewildering mass of enemy characters ranging from metallic droids, symbiotic spheres and prehistoric crustaceans. Weird ammonites and trilobites zoom in and out of the screen and attempt to ram the ship and occasionally the screen is dense with activity. To its credit you can still see what's going on though.
At the end of each level there's a large guardian waiting. Each needs to be approached and finished off in a specific way, but unlike some of the ones which dwelt in the original they can at least be tackled and overcome. Inspiration for some definitely comes from R-Type with high winding snakelike protectors which slide in and out of the guardian's tubes.
Every so often you'll be able to drop into a shop and buy and sell some weaponry. You can sell off items you've picked up on the way and use the cash to add to the credits you pick up as you destroy attack waves. There's at least twenty objects, side shots, power-ups, auto-fire electroball and nicest of all the 'dive' add-on, which allows you to flip underneath the parallax scrolling for ten seconds.
Graphically Xenon II is superb. The central sprite is clear, well-defined and large, as are the rest of the characters in the game. The guardians are huge and imaginative, but it's the backgrounds and the color which really make this game brilliant to watch. This is definitely arcade quality.
There are faults to be found with Xenon II. The necessity to have so much going on at one time means the game is slow. The scroll rate is just not fast enough and it can induce an element of tedium into the game. Also despite its impressive graphics and sound challenge somehow just isn't strong enough. Lack of variation might be the cause.
Despite these problems, there's little point denying that this isn't impressive stuff.
The first Galactic Conflict broke out a thousand years ago on the US West Coast with the Amiga-based coin op Xenon. A single pilot saved the Federation then by defeating the Xenites and rescuing Captain Xod. The Xenites aren't ones to forgive and forget though, so with aid of the megahip Bitmap Brothers (who made lots of dosh converting the original war) they've kicked off the Second Galactic Conflict in revenge. Five Time Bombs have been planted in the Process of Evolution, a surreal dimension made up of five evolutionary phases.
Life started in the sea of course, so the first level is filled with sea anemones, tadpoles and a massive Nautilus Shellfish which resides at the end of the stage. Maddened by radiation from the Time bomb planted beside it, this horrendous crustacean is mega-dangerous! Level two sees the rise of the insects with beetles, flies and a massive, revolting spider gnashing its mandibles at you. As on all the levels but the first, this level has two massive creatures to be defeated so it's as well there's Crispin's Swop Shop.
The Real Cash deposited by blasted aliens can be collected and spent here. You enter the shop automatically when you get so far in the game, and once Crispin turns off his Walkman trade begins. Firstly you can sell off any add-on weapons you've picked up or bought previously, typically Crispin will pay half what it costs to buy an item. Next you can choose what to bolt on your ship from a range of 24 hardware items. Many of the items, such as the vital speed-ups, shot power increase, energy recharge and cannon pod, can be picked up from debris of destroyed aliens. The hardcore, magablasting stuff has to be bought though. And prices are steep. 6000 for homing missiles, 4500 for mines, 5000 for a flamethrower. What's more these awesome weapons can be built up together, and even duplicated. A taste of the possibilities is offered by the Super Nashwan Power, 600 for ten seconds of mega-blasting with a full kit of bolt-on weapons. One of the most remarkable add-ons however, is 'Dive' which allows you to swoop down to the uninhabitated lower level scrolling beneath the main action. You can keep your head down here for up to ten seconds at a time, but while you're hiding the aliens multiply making it that much harder when you pop up.
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