Xenon 1 logo

IN almost any industry, timing is the single most important factor deciding whether a product will be a immediate hit or a total failure. On many occasions single days have meant the difference between glory and defeat.

The reason for this little parable is Xenon, the first release for the Amiga by Melbourne House, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mastertronic. Based on the well known arcade game, it could have gone down as the greatest shoot-'em-up for the Amiga, except that it was released almost simultaneously with Sidewinder (this time by Mastertronic), a game which is at least as good, and less than half the price.

Now correct me if you wish, but I would say that Mastertronic has shot itself in the foot.

Anyway, enough hypothesising. As with all games that software houses expect you to pay £19.95 for, Xenon comes with a - thankfully - small novella, telling the story of how you must go the aid of a Captain Xod who is apparently in deep... well, considerable trouble.

To succeed in your mercy mission, you must fight your way through 16 different zones collecting essential supplies for the fleet on the way. Each time you complete a zone you have an opportunity to refuel and rearm, but only after you have dealt with a huge Nemesis-like alien.

Anyone who has played the arcade version of Xenon will immediately feel at home, for to give the programmers behind the game credit where it's due, they have produced one of the most complete and accurate arcade conversions I have ever seen.

For those of you who have not played the arcade game, Xenon is a twin-role fighter. Depending on what the situation demands, you can either use a ground based multi-directional tank, or a faster vertically flying aircraft.

One of the most annoying features of Xenon is the method of changing from one craft to another, something that in most cases needs to be done in a hurry. You must either tap the spacebar or move the joystick from side to side.

If you are not too busy with the aliens the spacebar is no problem, but the joystick is little short of a pain. On more than one occasion I found myself changing the ship purely through the ferocity of my joystick movements. This always ended in unexpected death.

As you travel onward and upward, killing the right aliens and gun turrets will result in your ship becoming an increasingly potent force. As with games such as Nemesis and Salamander, these extras include increased fire power, multiples - invisible ships which fly and fire in parallel - increased speed, and homing missiles, among others.

Graphically, Xenon is very good. Detailed sprites and excellent backdrops ranging from Uridium-esque metallic backgrounds to some very weird forms of undergrowth add up to create an excellent graphic effect. Other nice touches include an excellent animated digitised face in the right hand side control panel.

The animation, too, is up to standard with smooth scrolling and very little juddering or slowing of the screen, even when the game gets very frantic - and it certainly does get.

One thing that did not really impress me was David Whittaker's music. He has been at the forefront of Commodore 64 music for some time now, but this - which I suspect may be his first commercial Amiga soundtrack - is not quite up to scratch. Sure it's fast and thumping, but when you consider what the Amiga is capable of...

The right hand control panel of the game (apart from the game logo) is used to display the amount of fuel remaining. Each time you are hit by one of the baddies this fuel reserve diminishes until, when you have nothing left, a life is lost. More fuel is, however, available each time you complete a level.

Xenon is a good, fast, exciting and enjoyable shoot-'em-up. It hardly drains the brain, but then that's not what it is supposed to do. Unfortunately, it provides little if anything that you can't get for half the price in Sidewinder. If however, you already own Sidewinder and are looking for something the same, Xenon's for you.

Xenon 1 logo CU Screen Star

Melbourne House

You'd think if a company had constructed the baadest original shoot 'em up anyone's seen for ages they wouldn't want to go and package it up with a load of drivel about federation fighters, star fleets and hyperspacial pseudo-acceleration. But no, the resident naffo sci-fi freak at Melbourne House had to have their bit of waffle. Philip K. Dick they ain't.

Good job I junked the instructions and dived straight into the game otherwise I might have been seriously put ff what is a near arcade quality piece of blasting. Xenon is a vertically scrolling shoot 'em up with play much like an inverted R-Type, and it's converted from their own Arcadia machine.

You have four levels divided into four sectors. The object naturally is to make it to the end. You can play as two different types of craft, a land based tank or a fighter aircraft. To get anywhere at all in the game you'll have to switch between the two. You'll also have to pick up the multitude of extra weapons and add-ons that shooting various gun emplacements along the route will reveal. It's one of those games which gives you a dozen different kinds of firepower when you hit the fire button. Naturally it results in some fairly serious destruction.

That's not to say you become invincible. The amount of flak from gun emplacements and alien ships is massive. Each time you get hit you use up fuel restoring your shields. Collisions result in more drastic energy loss.

Each section also has a sentinel, which is basically one big mutha who pops up half way through a level and another even bigger one which appears at the end. These also seem to sap all your weaponry so you end up firing pathetic little shells at this monster. You'll have to stay well out of its way and pour masses of fire at it before it starts to glow and explodes.

Liquidating the humungous monsters takes you on to the next sector whereupon a fuzzy, digitised figure will appear in the corner of the screen and mutter the words "Sector Two". If they were going to have speech they should have made more of it.

The first sector is a futuristic landscapes of domes and tiles squares. Section two is pure flying as you avoid the wall at the side. It's back to switching between ships for the third level which is similar to the first. Finally it's back to the aircraft to complete the last part.

Xenon is one of the best shoot 'em ups to appear yet on the Amiga. Don't be put off by its slowness at the start because it speeds up (it's much quicker than the ST version anyway) pretty drastically and you'll find the screen is cluttered with all manner of flying objects. A class blast.

Xenon 1 logo

Melbourne House, £19.95 disk, joystick or mouse with keys

After the 50-year Arachnid War, the universe has settled into a period of trading and artistic accomplishment. Philosophy and religion have reached a point where science has answered many of their fundamental mysteries. Spacecraft have been sent to the edge of the cosmos and found close space, leading thinkers to believe that there were no more sentient species to be contacted.

However, they were proven wrong with the sudden emergence of the Xenites, and their rapid colonisation of 15 planets. Now, ten years after their first appearance, the Xenites hold a grip of terror on the merchants and traders who dare to cross the vastness of space, for raids are frequent, swift and deadly.

Deep in space, a lone Federation fighter receives a mayday call, reporting that Xenite forces have attacked the fleet, which is now in need of urgent assistance. Unfortunately for the pilot, he is the only Federation fighter in the area - so the fate of the galaxy is in his hands...

Taking control of the multi-role attack craft, the player cuts a swathe through Xenite territory in order to reach the fleet. This consists of four sectors, each split into four vertically scrolling zones of planet surface. The landscape is littered with domed gun emplacements and elevated constructions, which are negotiated by switching the craft between ground and air modes, giving a multi-direktional tank-like vehicle, and a forward flying aircraft. The transition is initiated by either tapping the space bar or rapidly waggling the joystick from side to side.

Shooting alien formations and gun emplacements occasionally reveals power pills, which bestow special features on the attack craft, including: force shield, eight-way homing missiles, laser/bullet switches, increased shot power, increased ground craft speed, side-firing lasers, smart bomb, wingtip laser pods and up to three 'Multiples' which follow in the path of the craft and mimic the player's firing.

As alien hits strike home, fuel is lost from the ship's supply, represented by a diminishing bar. A life is lost when the tank is drained, but the additional fuel is gathered on collection of the appropriate power pills.

Between zones, a sentinel ship appears which is shot repeatedly in a specific spot before it is destroyed. The player is given three crafts to complete the entire mission, and extra ones are granted at regular periods during the mission.

Julian Rignall Forget any comparisons with the arcade original - this IS the arcade original! The graphics are superb; with backdrops ranging from stark metallic bas-relief structures on level one to almost organic growths on the fourth. The sprites are of a similar high quality, with some small, but nicely detailed enemy craft and absolutely superb giant motherships, especially the enormous alien-like battle ship at the end of level two. Adding tension to the atmosphere are a series of excellent Whittaker soundtracks (which sound like very early Ultravox) - the one which pounds away when the end-of-level guardian appears is particularly good. One thing that is immediately off-putting is the difficulty level - the odds seem almost overwhelming at the start. However, once you work out which weapons to pick up and become familiar with the attack waves - objects and alien craft always appear in the same places - headway is soon made. Anyway, I find that the difficulty level makes the action all the more addictive, and constantly return for 'just one more go'. The only thing that does annoy is the slightly over-sensitive control, which occasionally causes the craft to switch from tank to aircraft (or vice-versa) just when you don't want to. This aside, Xenon is extremely slick and oozes playability - don't let it pass you by.
Gordon Houghton Xenon could have been a brilliant game but for a couple of annoying features. The manual is useful and interesting and the digitised introductory sequence is typical of the game's neat touches. The backdrops are very pretty: the bas-relief is effective, there's a wealth of varied and beautifully drawn aliens, and the use of colour is superb, particularly the lovely explosion sequence. The wide range of aliens is nicely conceived, scuttling about in formations which prove genuinely challenging. Musically, it's curious but effective - an atmospheric enhancement of the gameplay. However, the main fault lies in the excessively sensitive control system; it would have benefited from an option to defeat the joystick method, relying solely on the space bar. Similarly, the motherships and end-of-level creatures can be extremely tedious to destroy since they require an excessive amount of strikes. However, these aren't crucial faults and the main blasting element is superb, particularly when you have a full array of homing missiles and triple lasers! The set sequence action doesn't prove too tedious, and although there are only four zones, it provides plenty of long-term, enjoyable action.
Paul Glancey As vertically scrolling shoot 'em ups go, Xenon isn't bad at all; in fact it does this tired old genre some credit. The dual-purpose craft is an excellent invention, but the selection method is rather unreliable insofar that it tends to switch between ground and air attack even when the joystick isn't being frantically wiggled, putting the player in some sticky spots! Although the programmers have stuck to what has become the rather hackneyed bas-relief style, the overall look of the game is very good. Sound, too, is well used with a pacey Whittaker soundtrack backing the action. Where the game fails down, though, is on the level of difficulty; negotiating the first zone is relatively easy, but then you come across the first sentinel which, even with a good supply of weapons, proves very hard to destroy. The real shock comes when you realise that after battling past this monstrous spaceship you're still only halfway through the level!
Well, at least it'll take a while to see all four levels, but frustration might have built up to intolerable levels before then. However, if shooting 'em up is what you do best, you should find Xenon a worthwhile purchase.