I’m not sure what it was about Xevious that sparked my imagination quite as much as it did, because I’m not even talking about playing that groundbreaking vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up, but seeing a single screenshot in some dim and distant issue of Computer & Video Games magazine! With hindsight I’m putting that down to two things though… First, it looked like there was a bombsight in front of your ship. Second, those looked like forests and rivers and not outer space – had the invaders actually invaded?
It took a while to actually get my hands on Xevious. It was a full five years after the original arcade release before it appeared on the Spectrum, and when it did eventually arrive it didn’t stand a chance for a while – I’ve still never been as excited about a new game coming than the port of Shao-Lin’s Road that same month! And while it’s a decent version, by then it was also competing with the likes of Uridium and Lightforce, not to mention new-fangled 3D shooters like Space Harrier, so it never really set the world on fire. Which is all very ironic, considering none of those would probably exist without Xevious, so often overlooked as the first vertical shooter, or the first game with bosses, or the first to use pre-rendered graphics, or even the first have a storyline in a cohesive world. Kind of!
When the ports finally arrived, they never stopped coming, and you’ll also find arcade Xevious on dozens of compilations released for everything ever since, although the near-complete but unreleased Atari 2600 and 5200 do intrigue me, so we’ll have to have a dig into those sometime! Then there was the sequel, Super Xevious, and MSX and PC-Engine remakes, and that 3D PlayStation thing that I really never got on with, but for now though, we’re heading all the way forward to late 2021 when a friend of mine announced his solo-dev side-project, Re-Xevious, a fan-made homage to the original updated for the modern era. And before we go any further, you can download it for free at RozzBozzy’s itch.io page right here.
I’d love to say that this is the first game released in 2022 that I’ll be reviewing this year, but despite what the title might still say, what I’m actually going to do is have a look at Re-Xevious rather than “reviewing” it because there’s a personal interest and I’ll struggle to be objective. That said, I’ve had loads of fun with it regardless so let’s dig right in! I’m assuming that the storyline here more or less follows the original, and that goes something like the Xevions have arrived with their Zoshi Death Squads and Toroid Patrol Fleets and Terrazi Destructors in tow and they want their planet back! Turns out that Earth originally belong to them and we were the aliens, but now our puny weapons offer no defence, so it’s up to the new Solvalou fighter plane to penetrate their air and ground forces and take out the Xevious mothership!
Once again, I’m assuming there’s a mothership or the like at the end of all of this because, whilst I’m definitely making in-roads into getting better at shooters, and have even beaten a proper big boy one on PC-Engine in the last 24 hours as I write this, I certainly haven’t come close to seeing all the levels and all the bosses here yet! That said, there are teasing glimpses of the mothership as you progress through the first zones, and you can even get a few shots away before it disappears into the distance again, but it won’t be long before you hit this exhilarating transition from a dense, burning neon city-scape into off-planet hyper-space and then the mothership appears in its giant, terrifying glory for a full of confrontation that you’ve no hope of winning yet before its off again and replaced by the relative relief of another onslaught of regular enemies. For the time being at least!
The game plays out in a shifting pseudo-3D perspective which provides an extra element of risk if you want to go aggressive at the top of the screen because there’s a surprising amount of distance there, and your ship is flying away from you, effectively getting smaller and harder to manipulate, where it’s big and obvious if you’re playing it safer down the bottom… except you’re not really as you quickly realise there’s bullets and then homing missiles coming at you from behind you too! Ideally you need to keep an eye on everywhere all at once, anticipating the aerial formations appearing in the distant top of the screen as well as that invisible rear-guard, and don’t forget the ground defences, which in reality are going to be far more in number than you can ever hope to deal with before long so it’s often a case of prioritising the ones shooting at you, maybe with your spare eye! And all of that is just for starters, because by the time you then hit the moon’s orbit you’ll have noticed you’re pretty much in bullet-hell territory now, and that’s where exhilaration turns into panic for the first few times at least!
Hopefully by this point you’ll also be unleashing a nice spread of hell in all directions of your own though, thanks to the generous parade of power-ups that you’ll really need to make another priority because they’re also your single lifeline – get hit and you start losing them, all the way through to game over! If it’s all still a bit much, there is a lower scoring easy mode (as well as the 5x bonus hard mode if you’re a proper nutcase), though for pure thrill I’d really recommend sticking with normal, even though it might hurt for a while! Once you’re in the zone, and especially when you’ve got a serious arsenal of guns and wingmen on the go, there’s a real joy in working your way around the bullet formations and firing off something for the enemies just emerging out of the top of the screen while you ease the more immediate threat by taking care of a few turrets further down. Equally, there’s nothing worse than being totally cut off from one of those power-ups that you really need but is hopelessly floating away off the bottom of the screen!
It does all seem far more frantic than the equally cruel original Xevious, but a lot of that’s being planted in your mind thanks to the strobing Rez-like neons that begin minimal but quickly become a chaotic metropolis of retro-futuristic destruction! If you can manage to draw your eyes (and this is a where a third one would be really useful!) down to the surface just below all of this light and action though, you might just notice a load of the original game is down there too after all! The huge rotating sprites of the motherships and mini-bosses and moons and the like provide contrast to the more vector-esque environments that make up the majority of the play, and while it’s all relatively simple taken standalone, pack masses of everything together all at once, top it with bullet trails and explosions, and the whole can often be unexpectedly breath-taking!
The graphics play their part in elevating your heart-rate beyond the gameplay alone, but their final flourishes are the sides of the playfield which also serve as a giant audio visualiser, providing a seamless link to another real star of the show, Nicole Marie T’s massive techno soundtrack! It might not be a genre of music that I’m especially fluent in, but it immediately put me in mind of the kind of impossibly cool nightclub you’d get in a movie like Blade that’s full of impossibly cool people from the nineties… Blood is pumping! And just when you think you’ve got a fix on its hypnotic drumbeats, the briefest lull in gameplay as one 3D plane becomes another, will settle the beats into a break as it prepares to elevate its melodies to a whole new dimension for you to get to grips with, and it all begins again.
I can’t not take this opportunity to also give a quick shoutout to another friend, Gary Arnott, who’s behind the 2D artwork you’ll find here, and if you have any interest in retro games at all, do yourself a favour and find him on Twitter (@GaryArnott) because he has an incredible talent for bringing them to life of a daily basis! And that brings me nicely to conclude with my heartfelt congratulations to my other talented friend whose “side project” has given a forty year old game a new lease of life, and given me such a good time so far, even if seeing what lies beyond its moon worms’ technicoloured terror trails is currently way beyond my capabilities, even if there is an easy mode! As I said before, this isn’t a proper review so I’m not giving a proper final verdict beyond that, but hopefully I’ve given enough of a taste that Re-Xevious definitely deserves you have a proper try of, so hit that itch.io link from earlier, have a download and see how you get on for yourself!