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Zaxxon (Colecovision) artwork

Zaxxon (Colecovision) review

"Now with 95% more grating noises and twitchy motion!"

Zaxxon (Colecovision) image

Were you to snap a screenshot of Zaxxon on Colecovision and frame it, the finished product might fetch a fair price from a retrophile or a hipster who has never played the game. For a title released on a home console circa 1983, it looks pretty snazzy. It showcases multicolored sprites and a wide range of blues and greens that are mostly easy on the eyes. As long as you don't see the game in motion, or hear it, or play it, it's actually charming.

I think you know where I'm going at this point. Excuse me, I've got to roll up my sleeves for this one...

Coleco's Zaxxon met critical 1983. There were plenty of dodgy aspects that players understandably ignored back then that would be foolish to overlook now. For starters, the game continuously exudes a horrible racket that sounds like a vacuum cleaner making passionate love to a 56 K modem. I understand that this was meant to simulate flight, but it's nonetheless grating and a bit distracting to boot. When I started the game recently, I died several times because I was so preoccupied with complaining about the ear-splitting noise that I somehow didn't notice enormous walls coming towards me.

After activating the mute feature on my television, I thought I could manage to enjoy the game. Nothing doing. Bear in mind, now, that I'm not typically prone to motion sickness. I could spend all day at an amusement park, ride every twisted device, and drive home without a twitch. Playing Zaxxon, however, had me looking away several times for fear of fainting or seizures. This is because the game doesn't scroll vertically or horizontally, but isometrically. Worse than that, stages don't smoothly advance as they might in almost every other shmup, but quickly jerk every second that passes. Imagine if you're playing a scrolling shooter and the battlefield moves downward and noticeably stops. Then a split second later, it budges and halts again and repeats the process until eventually you feel like you're going to have a stroke. That would sum up Zaxxon's movement.

Zaxxon (Colecovision) image

You might argue that this doesn't hamper gameplay at all, but I would beg to differ. Like the annoying flight whistle, the jerkiness is distracting. It's difficult to focus on oncoming missiles or to locate a weakness in a barrier to fly through when the screen constantly spasms as you make headway.

Now that I've gotten through the painful part of the experience, I'll tell you what the game is like once you've somehow acclimated yourself to the aural and visual horror Zaxxon offers. What? Divine? Oh, please. Try mediocre at best.

Yes, there are some neat scenes in Zaxxon, particularly once you've exited the first platform and entered space. That's when foes regularly appear and attempt to blow you to smithereens and you respond with ship-rending lasers. Not only do you need to mind your vessel's horizontal placement during these segments, but also your altitude. Soar at the wrong height and your projectiles will miss your foes. Bear in mind that I'm not saying that the game could rival Super Star Soldier or any of its contemporary ilk in terms of shooter brilliance, but for a Colecovision game it features adequate blasting.

Zaxxon (Colecovision) imageZaxxon (Colecovision) image

The only problem is that before you reach the shooty bits, you have to endure lengthy stretches of either nothing or acres of dull stationary enemies that aren't worth engaging. Although there are green towers that are necessary to kill so you can refuel your ride, there's also a plethora of domes and missile platforms that are best left alone. In effect, you end up zipping over miles of real estate that could have been utilized to set up some exciting dog fights.

I won't say that Zaxxon is a horrible title. Sure, it plays better on more advanced platforms or in the arcade, but the Colecovision iteration has at least a hint of charm going for it, assuming you can get over the brain-destroying motion and sound. Once you've achieved that, the worst you might be able to ultimately say is that you could be playing a better shoot 'em up. Thankfully, you need not dig deeply to find one superior to Coleco's attempt at the arcade classic.

Oh, and if it weren't for this port, we wouldn't have this gem.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (July 12, 2015)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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