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Xargon: The Mystery of the Blue Builders (PC) artwork

Xargon: The Mystery of the Blue Builders (PC) review

"Is this Epic Games's darkest secret?"

Epic Games, formerly Epic MegaGames, have been an amazing developer. I mean, sure they made Gears of War and Shadow Complex. But forget all of that: they made Unreal Tournament.

Oh! And forget all of that, they also made Xargon.

To be fair, it wasn't the Epic we know now; back in the early nineties, the company was like, one guy, and his side-scrolling action game pedigree was very limited -- there was Jill of the Jungle, and that was about it. And what I'm sure made the Xargon project even more daunting to pull off was the fact that Epic was going up against the shareware giants of the day, Apogee, and their classic platformers, Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy, Duke Nukem and the lesser known but probably superior run-and-shoot gem, 1993's Bio Menace.

Jill of the Jungle wasn't pretty, but it featured some decent gameplay, as Jill leaped over lava pits, and took out all manner of beasts with her boomerang knife. Those environments, though. Nondescript grey blocks everywhere you looked. Xargon is absolutely gorgeous by comparison, featuring verdant platforms and shadowy caves for our hero, Malvineous Havershim to traipse through. Yes, you read that name right: and why shouldn't an archaeologist who looks He-Man in Wranglers call himself Malvineous? We're told that his journey is about studying hieroglyphs in Madagascar, but it's also about killing Xargon. (Who's that? Who knows.)

Yes, I remember being a poor student who feasted on shareware content, depended on it, and Xargon's screenshots were mouthwatering. Unfortunately, to actually play the game was a whole other thing entirely. Jill's adventure is markedly better, and hers was a middling mission unworthy of more than a quick demo run when compared to the likes of Bio Menace. Where Jill brandished knives, Malvineous fires laser bullets out of his belt. There's no animation for this: the bullets are just magically emitted, one at a time. In a strange move, you can actually control a bullet's path to some degree once it's already in flight. And with power ups, you can fire those colourful dashes more rapidly.

You can collect emeralds to purchase such power ups, and you can pick up fruit for vitality. Enemies are an odd bunch, ranging from giant caterpillars to nightmarish, made up monsters. One green eyesore looks like a ambulating set of knuckles, another, a bipedal beast with a massive underbite. The game isn't difficult, as absorbing the five hits it takes to die actually takes some doing. The facts that there are spike and acid pits which lead to instant deaths and that the levels provide no checkpoints, conspire together to keep you honest, but neither the shooting nor the jumping is tricky on the whole. The greater challenge is in staying interested.

Granted, Xargon is now completely free as abandonware (as are all the much better games I've compared it to) -- it'll only cost you your time. But 25 years on, when it's up against several generations of actual classic 2D action options, when it's a pretty but generally inferior retread of a game that got its own ass kicked in its day, and when that day came two and a half decades ago... well, your time is much too great a cost.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (September 09, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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