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Xevious by Namco – Classic Arcade Game Review

Some games conjure up very vivid memories – where you first played it, the feel of the controls, the sounds and graphics forever burned into your mind. Xevious was one of my earliest arcade game memories, not the first I played but one of the first that I mastered. This game made me feel like I belonged in the arcade, rather than an just an observer on the sidelines.


xevious arcade title screenshot
Xevious Arcade Title Screen
Namco’s 1982 arcade game defined the vertical scrolling shooter format, being one of the first to feature a moving landscape with a mix of land and air based targets rather than just a scrolling starfield. Your space ship, or “Solvalou” is equipped with both air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, and uniquely features a set of crosshairs that hover in front of your ship, allowing you to target tanks and buildings. Careful targeting of the ground based targets would allow you to destroy two adjacent targets with one missile, which was helpful as the fire rate was relatively slow, requiring certain amount of strategy to make the most of your weapons.

Airborne enemies would take the form of geometric shapes, including cubes, spheres, pyramids and rings, which would attack in formation and fire slow-moving bullets towards your ship. The fire rate of your bombs was also quite sedate, so the game became a slow moving ballet as you dodged bullets and incoming ships, as well as positioning your ship to deploy bombs and destroy stationary targets.

Xevious Arcade Gameplay
Xevious Arcade Gameplay

Your mission took you over 16 different stages, which unlike many vertical shooters that followed, featured some very traditional landscapes, including woods, grassy plains, rivers and lakes. The only unusual feature is the Nazca style landmarks in certain stages, which suggests a South American setting. As the levels progressed, the amount of enemies on screen would increase, with flying ships join by land based gun emplacements, and then mobile units such as tanks. Large boss ships would also be introduced at various stages, requiring you to shoot the core in order to destroy them.

Although the game was one of the first vertical scrolling shooters, it wasn’t as forgiving of new players as you might expect. The incoming projectiles may have been relatively slow moving, but enemies had a habit of firing at you as they passed close by, or from behind you, a convention that was dialled out of many later shooters. This difficuly was increased further by the movement of ground based enemies, which because of your slow air-to-surface missiles, required you to bomb not where they were, but where they were going to be. This resulted in a very tough game, one that did not allow you to cruise through the hame dodging bullets, you had to destroy as many enemies as possible on every wave in order to progress, simultaneously avoiding incoming aerial waves whilst positioning yourself for bombing runs.

There was also a suprising level of depth to the game, with novel features such as hidden towers that could only be identified by your sights turning red as they passed over them, and the ability to temporarily reduce the difficulty of the game by destroying specific ground targets, which eased off the ferocity of the aerial attack. The enemies ships were also grounded in realism (for a sci-fi fantasy game), as they never tried to collide with your player, but delivered their payload and retreated or flew off to the side of the screen.

There is no real ending to the game, complete all 16 levels and you loop back to level 7, thus the challenge for Xevious masters is for the high score.

Xevious Sequels

2 Player Action in Xevious Arrangement

A sequel was inevitable, but the resulting Super Xevious game released by Namco in 1984 was more an update than a true sequel, given that much of the game remained identical, with changes being made to the enemy roster and general difficulty level. The original game had so many fans, and with Xevious not having a true “end”, the challenge for experts was not to finish but to reach the maximum score. Super Xevious provided the additional challenge that was craved by these arcade score chasers.

A proper remake would have to wait until 1995 for release, with the brilliant Xevious Arrangement, an arcade game that was also could also be foind on the Sony Playstation 1. This game was a true homage to the original Xevious, with upgraded 2D graphics, more variety in the enemy ships and bosses, and greatly improved music and sound effects. The game also included a 2 player mode, and a true ending following the 16th stage, features missing from the 1982 original.

As well as the classic 2D versions of Xevious, further 3D versions were released, playing like a kind of Starfox on-rails shooter, but with recognisable landscapes and enemy ships. These games are OK, but don’t play like Xevious, being more themed around the original game.

Home Console Remakes

Due to the huge popularity of the game there were a number of officially licensed home versions, released on various platforms by Atari and Nintendo. The most popular was for the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom in Japan and the US), which despite the challenging screen dimensions, managed to replicate the arcade gameplay accurately and include all of the major features. Atari attempted and failed to release a version on the 2600 and 5400 consoles, but eventually released the game on 1987 on the less popular Atari 7800.

Xevious had a resurgence in the 1990’s when a version was releaed on the Gameboy Advance, and it can also be found on various Namco compiliation titles.

For completeists, the Playstation title Xevious 3D/G is the one to look out for, having versions of all the 2D originals including excellent Xevious Arrangement, as well as the 3D remakes. My preference however is to fire up the MAME cabinet and play the arcade original, which takes me back to that Spanish arcade in 1982.

Galaga by Namco – Retro Arcade Review

At the time of writing, summer is here, and I am reminded of hot days spent in the arcades playing games like space shooter Galaga.  In the early 80’s my holidays would be spent camping with my family, and many of the campsites we visited would have a clubhouse and games room, and my pocket money would be spent indulging my habit on whatever cabinets were available.

galaga arcade konami screenshot
Galaga Arcade
In 1981 Galaga was the game of the summer for me, released by Namco as a successor to one of my previous favourites, Galaxians.  Having played the excellent space shooter Galaxians to excess I was keen to master it’s sequel – Galaxians’ diving aliens were a revelation to me after playing the more pedestrian Space Invaders, and I was sure that Galaga would be even better.

The first thing you notice on firing up Galaga is the graphics – big, colourful and incredibly fast, faster than anything that had come before it.  Rather than being presented with all of your enemies at the start of each wave, columns of aliens would fly in from the left and right, presenting an opportunity to take a few out before they fell into formation – if you could hit them.  Fortunately, unlike Space Invaders and Galaxians, your Galaga ship had the ability to fire multiple missiles, rather than waiting for each to hit home before you could launch the next, and this was absolutely necessary in Galaga due to the speed of the enemy ships.

Once the enemy ships were in formation they would begin to attack, and like Galaxian’s, small groups of attackers would break off and dive bomb your ship, requiring you to either avoid them and their missiles, or stand firm and destroy them for extra points.  Care was needed to avoid being trapped in a corner due to the angle of the dive, and also look out for the bigger ships which need 2 hits, although they do change colour after the first hit to remind you.

With each hit you are rewarded with a great sound effect, sounding like a kind of high pitched squelch, similar to the sound of pac-man eating a pill.  With the speed of Galaga, the sound created was a constant chattering and chirping that was an audible reminder of the success of each shot.

Beam me Up

At certain points, the large green and blue “boss” aliens at the top of the formation would dive, and half way down the screen fire a tractor beam towards the player.  You have 2 options here, either destroy the boss before he grabs your ship, or allow yourself to be “beamed up” by the alien and lose a life.  At this point your ship is returned to the formation, and will begin to attack your remaining vessels along with it’s wingmen.  If however you can destroy the wingmen of your captured ship, it will be returned to you giving you a “double ship” with twice the width but also twice the firepower.  This extra firepower comes in handy from stage 3 onwards…

Galaga Bonus Stage

[amazon asin=B004UJLNMQ&template=iframe image]Starting at level 3 (and every 4th stage after) you will be presented with a bonus round, where the Galaga ships would fly onto the screen and off again, following erratic flight formations, whilst you try to shoot them all down.  The trick with the bonus level is to find the point on the screen through which all the aliens must travel repeatedly, and at the slowest point of their flight, in order to maximise your chance of hitting all of them.

After 5 waves, each having 8 enemies, you are given a bonus score based on the number of ships you manage to take out, with 40 (obviously) being a perfect score. Hitting all the enemy ships see you rewarded with a special bonus of 10,000 points.  It is possible to score a perfect 40 without a twin ship, but it makes it a lot easier so is highly recommended.

There is a bug in the system that means that only player 2 can score more than 999,990 points, as player 1 is limited to 6 characters for the score.  You’d better get a screenshot though, as only the first 6 digits will display on the high score screen regardless of player number.


Matthew Broderick playing Galaga in War Games
Galaga in the movie “War Games”

The Galaga game appeared in the movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick, as one of the “latest games” his character downloads from the hacked servers of the an un-named computer company.
At the time I thought this was a fantastic idea, and wanted to make me build my own computer to play arcade games, it’s only 30 years later that I actually managed it with my MAME project.
Looking back the idea of downloading a game from a remote computer to play at home was like witchcraft, whereas 30 years later you can do it on your mobile phone. Back then Matthew Broderick needed his own computer and a dial-up modem with an acoustic coupler, all very exotic stuff.

Home versions

Galaga Konami NES version screenshot
Galaga NES Version

Galaga was released on number of home consoles and computers, the most notable being the Atari 7800 and NES versions, as well as a later port to the Gameboy, where it was bundled with Galaxians.  Modern consoles can access Galaga through the Namco Museum compilations, and it has also had the iPhone treatment as part of Galaga 30th Anniversary Collection,  which is available as a free download from the iTunes store.

Of all the home versions I would have to go with the NES release as being the most faithful.  Despite playing all of the recent conversions and compilations I can’t recreate the feeling of playing Galaga on an upright machine, so when I am in need of a fix I will head back to my MAME cabinet, which takes me all the way back to the summer of 1981.

Time Crisis retro arcade review

In the same way that Operation Wolf blew away the arcade competition with it’s 2D light gun game in 1987, Time Crisis did the same but in full 3D in 1996. Released after Virtua Cop, the first real 3D light gun game, Time Crisis featured vastly superior graphics, an engaging storyline and a killer feature – the ability to duck behind objects using a foot-pedal attached to the machine.

time crisis arcade game
Time Crisis Arcade Game
This is the defining feature of Time Crisis: the game retained the joy of firing a gun rather than moving a joystick, but the play mechanic was moved on from the “shoot before you get shot” to “use duck and cover tactics to shoot at the right time and avoid getting hit”. The enemy AI forces you to take cover in order for them to come out of their hiding places, and as the view is obscured while you are hiding, you come out blind, blasting for all you are worth at the on screen baddies.

Of course the game, due to the control mechanism, was on rails, but this seemed less of an issue when you had some control over the player in each scene. To ratchet up the tension, the time limited nature of each level forced the player to take chances in order to progress, with bonuses awarded in the form of extra time for killing certain enemies. You were also forced to hide in order to reload, rather than shooting off screen as per the light gun game standard.

The storyline was a standard “storm the castle, kill the bad guys at each level, defeat the boss and rescue the girl”, but it was well implemented, with game engine animated cut-scenes to give you a break from the frenetic action. There were also 2 modes, a standard Story mode, and a time attack mode, where every enemy in a level had to be defeated in a strict time limit.

Lucky Playstation owners were treated to an excellent port of the game in 1997, and various arcade sequels followed, with Playstation conversions keeping track. A ground breaking game that can still hold its own if you can find a cabinet.