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Zaxxon (Commodore 64) artwork

Zaxxon (Commodore 64) review


"At the end of this base, the eponymous Zaxxon attacks, a giant killer robot that actually does very little killing. Rather, he lumbers towards you, fires a single missile, and bugs out, ending the stage even if you fail to destroy him in what little time you get. And then it all repeats."


Once upon a time, when I was a child and my father's Commodore 64 the gateway to all those nifty video games, I sucked at all of them. But as I got a little bit older, I started figuring some of them out and only continued to suck at others. Zaxxon was in the latter category. A scrolling shooter using isometric projection to simulate a 3D environment, it moves you forward along a diagonal angle at a constant speed, letting you move left and right only, and using the joystick up and down to change your altitude instead. The first stage starts by flying over a high wall, or straight into it if you're still figuring out how the altitude thing works, and that took me plenty of time then. Nowadays it comes quite naturally.

But assuming you avoid ending your run before it even starts, beyond the wall lies a rather monotonous enemy base, consisting entirely of cannons that fire along the ground, fuel tanks that somehow refuel you if you destroy them, and radar dishes that do nothing but give you more points than the other targets if you blow them up. And plenty more walls, though these are low ones. Both walls and cannons are only a threat if you descend all the way to ground level, which you have to do to destroy anything, but if you prefer you can just stay high and dry and mostly safe. An occasional missile comes at you if you do this, but is easily destroyed by repeatedly tappping the fire button, as you'll quickly learn to do without stopping.

After the enemy base comes another high wall, followed by a space section where a fleet of 20 enemy fighters engages you in a dogfight, moving up and down like you and laying down some fire on occasion, though I find myself crashing into them far more often than I get hit by one of those shots. Soon they break off the engagement and a second enemy base comes up, but this one has far more walls and force fields above them, and forces you to constantly head to the right position and altitude to prevent collisions. This leaves little time to shoot targets. At the end of this base, the eponymous Zaxxon attacks, a giant killer robot that actually does very little killing. Rather, he lumbers towards you, fires a single missile, and bugs out, ending the stage even if you fail to destroy him in what little time you get. And then it all repeats.

So. Fun? At the time this was just another shooter game to me, of which the Commodore had many. But replaying it now, it becomes obvious that this one is rather dull. It was revolutionary at the time in the arcade, I'm sure, coming out in 1982. The Commodore 64 port is 1984, however, and by that time it was not quite as unique anymore. The year before, the Commodore had seen the release of Blue Max, a World War I-based game that uses the same isometric view, but is far more varied in its targets and its threats, and has an actual objective beyond just surviving and racking up points. And not to mention, the constant risk of being shot down or crashing yourself. Zaxxon, by contrast, lets you avoid most risk simply by flying over it, and even the boss barely puts up a fight. All you lose out on by playing carefully is points, and the Commodore port doesn't even keep a high score list. The score is gone the instant you hit a game over, unless you keep track of your best score yourself, but who does that? (77250.)

As the game repeats itself after each encounter with Zaxxon, the ante is upped a little bit by the dogfight between bases no longer ending after a short while, all 20 targets have to be shot down to proceed. Still a matter of getting into the rhythm of dropping or rising to their altitude, shooting a few and then hurriedly changing altitude again so the rest don't smack into you. Upon destroying the 20th, a sound glitch temporarily cuts out the constant drone of your ship's engines and brings some blissful silence. This is about the biggest reward you get from this game.

With largely uninspiring graphics, mostly dull gameplay and a general feeling of pointlessness, Zaxxon on the Commodore 64 cannot hold a candle to a similar and far superior game that came out a year before it, and will at best entertain briefly.

2/5

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (July 14, 2015)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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Feedback

If you enjoyed this Zaxxon review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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EmP posted July 14, 2015:

...unless you keep track of your best score yourself, but who does that? (77250.)

Genius -- you've still got it!

Welcome aboard the Zaxxon train.
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overdrive posted July 14, 2015:

Zaxxon: The new fad of 2015.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 14, 2015:

Zaxxon 3-D still needs some love/hate.
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EmP posted July 14, 2015:

I had Ben pencilled in for 3D Zaxxon for a while before he upped and vanished. Marc said he'd do it once and then Golding'd the entire thing. Who still needs #?

I'll make a link chain at some point. When it's not 1am, perhaps.
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sashanan posted July 15, 2015:

This entertaining YouTube video places footage of 12 different versions of Zaxxon (including this one) in sequence to allow for easy comparison.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9FDaHxVrCE

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