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Axelay (SNES) artwork

Axelay (SNES) review

"Listen to that. Itís the sound of crescendoing drums and bass line as you begin the game, and excitably contemplate the weapon select screen. It will only get better. From the Robotech inspired level two track, to the haunting, otherworldly undersea imaginings of level four, your ears are met with constant, engaging quality. "

Axelay. Ack-slay. Axle-ay?

This is inordinately important ground Iím treading, I know, but Iíll give up. Phenomenal is easy enough to say, and it describes the game just as well. Konamiís coup de grace in the 2D shooter world is not any one of their much heralded Gradius gamesóthough that series is definitely worthy of its own share of praise. Axelay does not try new things, so much as get less-worked ideas right, and run with them.

The story certainly is not new. Defending the earth is a shooter staple; it doesnít change on this outing. The format of the game is a bit fresh, however, and is sure to please fans of the genre.

How so? Well then, do you like vertical shooters? Yes you do. Thatís good. And horizontal ones? Even better. What is the purpose of this soliloquy? To establish the fact that youíve got both views incorporated seamlessly into this solid package. Thunder Force II had both side-scrolling and overhead levels as well, and they too, were intertwined after a fashion, but that game looks and plays awfully bland beside this one.

Axelay is far from bland. It looks amazing, besting the presentations of many Ďnext generationí titles in the shooter vein. It is unapologetic in its use of copious Mode 7 effects (reminiscent of Konamiís platform marvel, Super Castlevania IV) and also like its label mate, the view might only be superceded by its incredible score playing in the background. The two titles might well be linked in one other way; they have both become standard bearers for their genre on the Super Nintendo, no small feat considering the massive library belonging to said system.

Listen to that. Itís the sound of crescendoing drums and bass line as you begin the game, and excitably contemplate the weapon select screen. It will only get better. From the Robotech inspired level two track, to the haunting, otherworldly undersea imaginings of level four, your ears are met with constant, engaging quality.

We know shooter bosses are large, and difficult to dispatch, but how often do we use the word imaginative to describe them? Certainly not often enough. Axelay takes this personally. The stage four boss, Wayler is nothing if not creative, a firestorm with malevolent intent, he strives to ensnare you as you pound your weapons into his chest and arms. Even the first level's heavily clichťd spider boss is represented here, better than anywhere else. His web actually hinders your movements, as he sends baby spiders hurtling at you, kamikaze style.

Other enemies are standard issue, but even they are done with style, and are well drawn and animated. The entire production is well drawn and animated, and the impressive Ďspecialí effects only add a sparkle to a shiny package. The overhead levels in particular, feature a shocking sight for fans of the near defunct vertical shmup: the scrolling horizon. It looks quite odd, yet oddly delicious when you first see it. Your ship moves upward on the screen, and the screen retreats at the top, into the horizon. The mist that gathers there adds to the effect, while simultaneously helping the programmers in pulling it off, no doubt.

So it looks and sounds good. Is it intense? On any difficulty level this game gives you as much as you can handle. There is talk by detractors of it being too short and too easy. It may well be too short, at a too-fast six levels, but too easy? They must not have tried it on hard. On hard, you see (for the shoot-em-up pros among us), the game is a downright bastard.

You've got three weapons (some with great names like the Needle Cracker) that you select going into each level. You choose the three from an arsenal that varies depending on the mission you are about to undertake. This makes for a bit of strategy in the game. Select the wrong weapon, and the difficulty just went up a notch. When you get hit, you lose the weapon you were firing, are left with two more weapons and thus, two more hits left to take. When the second stage's AT-AT walker inspired guardian fires its rainbow spread of bullets at you, you'll pray for a higher hit total. But, rest assured that Axelay is never unfair--the controls are tight, and when you mess up you'll know it.

Axelay is as smooth as silk, and manages that elusive quality that many games strive for, and perhaps it was not striving for it, and that was why it hit its mark. The game looks like itís not even trying. All of this is a natural, expected phenomenon; an inevitability when a talented team comes together. The superb music, the ahead-of-their-time graphics, the all important heart-stopping final boss encounter--Axelay convinces us that this was all done very nonchalantly. The second best shooter for the SNES and one of the top shooters of all time. Ho-hum indeed.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 13, 2004)

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

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