Thursday, January 23, 2020


Kelly X

Finally, there is light at the end of my Super Pack tunnel - the penultimate game is a beast of a shoot 'em up released in 1988 by Melbourne House. The mighty XENON was my first experience of what the Bitmap Brothers were capable of. A team that (for me) was the Atari ST equivalent of Ultimate Play The Game, high praise indeed from this old fan. Few titles, but each one pushed our machine to its limits whilst also oozing a level of class beyond others.

I can still remember loading up Xenon for the first time on Christmas morning. Once the graphics appeared, I was so impressed - when compared to my 8-Bit experiences. However, my jaw didn't drop to the floor like a weighty anvil until that music kicked in, just as the visuals raced down my TV screen. What a simple yet, brilliant intro. Timeless

However, I always wondered why the pilot zooms over the entire level - because I've only gotta travel back up through the baddie-infested lands? Gee-whiz, thanks! Well, I should shut up and stop being silly because it's fantastic to watch and the digitized recording of Erich Matthews saying "Sector One" is pure gold. Iconic even!!

Righto, do you fancy some screenshots from the first level? Of course, you do so here you are...

The first level is iconic. It looks great. Sounds great. Plays great. Then you meet the boss...

Very few times I beat this sucker. It's a lot harder than anyone admits!

Plane And Tank!

We start in our little tank which is fast and manoeuvrable, but it's not long until you realise that you can't hit anything up high. Waggle that joystick (or hit the spacebar) to transform into a jet aircraft!! This is ace but, unlike the tank, cannot hit those critters crawling the floor... So, once again, get waggling to morph back into the tank. This method of flipping between the two vehicles is genius and can be done anytime during normal play one level 1/3.

Initially, Xenon's gameplay is neither fast nor furious - yet I still panic when something is chasing me and my little tank! The first level isn't really that difficult and you get to see a small selection of the baddies that the game was hiding up its sleeves. Heck, we even have ladybirds! There are more traditional defences that need blowing up, like aeroplanes and ground-based missile silos. So flipping between your two attack vessels now begins to prove fruitful those super-sexy bonuses.

If you managed to beat the boss then you're whisked off to the second stage where it's much harder...

The second level proves just how cruel and sadistic those Bitmap Brothers truly were!!

Having said that, I think the boss is slightly easier than on level one.

Frantic. Mayhem. Death!

A status panel (along the right side of your screen) shows a range of different stats including your score, altitude and fuel. But there are also power-up letters that might be available after blasting something to smithereens - and Xenon has a great selection. Well, except for the balls that follow behind your ship - I hate those. Always have! Anyhow, each power-up offers a wide variety of features to refuel, increased shot length and more. But here are the cool ones I like:

  • W = This is probably my second favourite power-up. Instant extra firepower!
  • A = Stay protected and stronger in your ship.
  • S = Side shots is a pretty cool upgrade, especially on the harder levels.
  • H = Homing missiles help to make things so much easier.
  • B = Balls, which can be stacked up to three. Great...
  • L = This is so fantastic and possibly my fave - and picking up "G" reverts back.
  • Z = Surely every game needs a smart-bomb?

Of course, there's always an end-of-level guardian and Xenon is no different. In fact, the Sentinels also appear halfway through each level. That's right, four levels so eight times you're having to battle these guys. They can only be killed by carefully aligning firepower at their weakest point. It's now that you die only to reload with a trainer enabled.

However, if you manage to win, then you're allowed to play the remainder of the level before another boss battle at the end. Beating him (for that second time) will whisk you off to the next level to fight against another massive array of new foes. And it's always tougher so I doubt you'll last very long - and that's the main issue I have against Xenon. It's just too hard after level one. How many ST players have seen the later levels without resorting to a cheat? I thought so.

Enough reading as it's time for more screenshots and, you guessed it, here are a couple from the third level...

Don't adjust your monitor... Yep, level three sure does look familiar albeit in pink. Ugh!

The toughest boss in the game. This one is a killer and I have never beaten it (without a cheat!)


Visually, and for the most part, this game is a total babe. Level one has a stunning metallic charm which I absolutely love. Heck, even now it looks outstanding to today's spoilt brats on their PS4s! Every stage looks great but I admit to not being a fan of the fourth level - I think it looks rather out of place and kinda like an Amstrad game. I know, weird, right?

Sprites are stunning, even those peculiar pink-brain things on level 4! Scrolling is always smooth and perfectly paced for the gameplay. Overall, Xenon epitomises that mind-blowing late 80s era when we upgraded from older machines like the Sinclair ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 to the glorious 16-Bit world. Yes, this game is nothing less than a visual feast!

Okay, I've hinted at the gore but here are some screenshots from the odd-looking fourth level...

Level four is insane and there are enough enemies to strike down an Asgard mothership!!

I wonder how many got that Stargate reference? Does anybody read my website?


Dave Whittaker has produced everything booming out of your ST mono speaker and what you hear is every bit as mind-blowing as those gorgeous visuals. Sound effects are a blast, even if they do mute one channel to work.

However, having said that it's the music that is just... Mmm, timeless. Level one has possibly one of the best and most brilliant chiptunes ever? So turn up the volume because the YM2149 is about to rock your house!!

The CryptO'pinion?

Hands down, this is one of the best 16-Bit shooters there is. The range of powerups is great and I love how we can flip between tank and plane. Sure, the bosses are annoying and later levels have too much action for even Superman to contend with. But, there is no denying this is an exciting shooter and a timeless classic I've loved for over 30 years.

Xenon is just downright awesome and very addictive. Play it and try to hate it. I dare you!!

Download available for floppies or hard drive.

Begin your drooling! Yes, I really do own this ace Atari ST game!! Oh yeah :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment