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Axelay (SNES) artwork

Axelay (SNES) review


"The stage: The Dread Pirate Shooterfan, after successfully delighting in the vast shooter libraries of the glorious Genesis and the timeless Turbo, chances upon the SNES... here he must face a battle of wits with the superhype machine itself: "



The stage: The Dread Pirate Shooterfan, after successfully delighting in the vast shooter libraries of the glorious Genesis and the timeless Turbo, chances upon the SNES... here he must face a battle of wits with the superhype machine itself:

SNES: So, it is down to you, and it is down to me.
DPS: Let me explain
SNES: There's nothing to explain! I can't compete with your taste in shooters, and you can't stomach my poor selection of them!
DPS: You're that bad?
SNES: Let me put it this way... have you ever heard of Deep Blue... Vapor Trail... TRUXTON??
DPS: Yes...
SNES: Masterpieces!
DPS: *Gasp!* Really... in that case I challenge you to a battle of the crap!
SNES: I accept!

And the SNES charged at the shooter fan with powerhouse schlep such as Phalanx and Darius Twin, but the haymaker... the game which struck the gamer, with its ridiculous, baseless hype and grotesque gameplay, was Axelay.

Axelay, despite the mounds of endless praise swelling message boards worldwide, is a wretched shooter.

To its credit, its outlay is unique. Axelay strives neither to be a vertical nor horizontal, but rather to achieve both in the same game. Thus, throughout the game's six levels, the odds are vertical and the evens are horizontal.

Axelay succeeds at neither. It's an alternating pile of crap.

The vertical levels are the worst, the most blatantly gaping wound of this game's construction. They're presented in a unique perspective; levels ''scroll'' as if you can see the horizon from an orbit around the planet. This results in an extremely awkward and obtuse perspective where objects or enemies near the top of the screen are obscured and warped, making them difficult to discern. Couple this with the game's goofy ''fog'' lingering about the top of the screen (yes, a 2D game with fog... Axelay is a real pioneer), and you're only left with about 2/3 of a viewable screen.

What appears in front of you from the mist and obscurity isn't worth seeing. Although graphically strong, the levels themselves are poor in construction, most often filled with asinine enemies and boring obstacles. The scant moments of ingenuity, such as the closing ''gates'' in the third level, are sapped of their potential by the perspective problems.

Axelay's vertical fare makes one stride for decency with its fifth level, the world-renowned lava encounter. Hints of achievement surface in the form of impressive (but pointlessly easy) lava worms and other, more challenging fire-themed obstructions. Excellence is still far from the grasp of Axelay here; the culminating battle with the visually striking but bafflingly easy (and poorly designed) ''giant of lava'' boss drags Axelay back down to its sub-mediocrity.

The horizontal levels fare a bit better. They're a touch more cleverly designed and you can actually see the full screen when traversing their lackluster landscapes. All is not roses, though, as Axelay encounters a new set of problematic fundamentals.

Level 6, the peak of the game, tries to get tricky. It is filled with token shooter conventions such as airship carriers and platforms floating up and down to dodge... but its money shot is its heinous implementation of the classic ''walls that close if you don't pass through them in time.'' See, the closer you are to these walls, the faster they close. If you get too close to the walls, trying to sneak through quickly as they first appear, they shut. Before there's even enough room for you on the other side.

This was after airships that drop streams of jetpack-powered enemies on top of your head without warning from off-screen. And it's after its lethargically plodding, bipedal, seemingly invincible and equally as drab, backwards-walking robot.

Dumb. But, as dumb as any of the levels' conventions or schemes or even their all-too-common lack thereof, they still hold supremacy over Axelay's trump card of gaming feces:

Axelay has the worst weapons of any modern shooter, bar none.

You choose three weapons from a menu of pure crap before each level. Your selection is, at first, three, but weapon choice expands as you progress. The most basic weapon, the flame balls-thing, is the game's best. Its boring, unoriginal qualities don't prevent it from being the game's only really effective weapon; the rest are trash. As you progress, you can earn an abysmal ''homing'' laser of sorts, in the guise of several thread-like craps that shoot from your ship in disgusting formations, hopefully finding an enemy or two as they meander around the screen in unintimidating fashion. Always available is the circular-firing gun... this seemingly pointless offensive mount fires at first in a circular motion around the ship. Once this revolution has completed, it fires forward, but off in left and right (or up and down in horizontal levels) directions about halfway up the screen.

The point of this junk? Almost none. At the game's beginning, a group of enemies encircles you... take the hint, use the weapon, and then NEVER again will this garbage be worth a damn.

Not surprisingly, Axelay's visual onslaught captivates and entrances its fans. Axelay, for all of its ulcerous gameplay, is a very attractive game.

The reward for suffering through a vertical level, with their impeded spatial viewability, is their gorgeous presentation. They scroll across the screen in an almost walleye perspective, warping around beautifully and vividly. The sense of soaring above a star as if in its orbit is delivered amazingly. Colors are soft and dramatic, abusing the SNES' palette without recourse. The simplistic second boss, a genuine neanderthal in complexity, is nevertheless an attractive machine, and the same can be said for the memorable (if equally lame in actual play design) visual front of the lava boss.

The SNES' resonating sound chip is dialed into to deliver the game's excellent sound, an audile scape of excellent synthesized shooter music. The quality of the music's presentation on the chip actually outshines its composition, just as was the case in Super Castlevania IV.

Why then, after such lavish praise on the game's peerless superficial spectacle, is the game so poor?

Because the superficials don't mean a damned thing.

The brilliant graphics are wasted on a game so lacking in playability. How its vertical levels could ever be taken seriously is a concept beyond me, and how its horizontals could ever warrant mention in a generation of machines bursting with examples of near-perfection in the area... I'll never understand that either.

I wish I was as easily amused as Axelay fans. Never again would I purchase a game only to feel I hadn't gotten my money's worth- for with Axelay-esque expectations, I'd certainly sit like a goofball and drool at the tv, content in the simplicity of flashing colors on the screen. Or, I could eat my controller, or write with chalk on the sidewalk, or crap my pants and laugh about it.

The sad truth, though, is that my life isn't that easy. I don't wear special shirts that absorb drool better, and I don't find Axelay the least bit special or worthy.

Axelay is supposed to be the SNES' best shooter. While competing with the likes of Darius Twin and Phalanx might seem like a simple task, it can't even stand toe-to-toe with those turkeys. It doesn't even stand a chance against the dregs of other systems' shooter arrays. Axelay is an unfathomably bad shooter, striving as hard as it can to make up for its incompetence with its beauty.

Axelay is attempting the impossible, and failing.

Rating: 2/10

sinner's avatar
Community review by sinner (March 14, 2004)

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