Xenon 2: Megablast – Atari ST – Guest Review

Retro Resolution Guest Retro Review

System: Atari ST
Developer: The Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Image Works
Year: 1989

Xenon 2 - Boss Fight
Xenon 2 – Boss Fight

Guest review courtesy of SweetMrGibs

For those of you who were too busy burning off your eyebrows with Bunsen burners to pay attention during science class, Xenon is an element within the Noble gas group of the periodic table.  For a while it was considered to be chemically inert… Unlike the explosive Bitmap Brothers shoot‘em up which shares its name. 

Chemistry lessons and tenuous links aside, if you’re as old as me, dear reader, you’ll remember that in 1988 mankind came under attack from a violent alien species known as Xenites.  Unfortunately, at this point in history Apple had yet to develop the “Upload Virus to Alien Mothership” app and Jeff Goldblum was busy morphing into a fly. However, we came up with the ingenious plan to use the enemy’s strengths against them. You see, the first excimer laser design used a Xenon molecule. Xenon also happens to be the propellant for ion thrusters in – that’s right, spacecraft.  And what does Lasers + Spacecraft equal? Why it’s the formula for turning Xenites into Ar-goners.

However, a year later the tenacious Xenites came up with a new, more cunning plan – a plan which involved wiping you – yes, you – from the very history of time!  If you never existed, dear reader, you could never defeat them, right?  I have no idea which Xenite came up with such an original idea, but hats off to them, they deserve a medal. Based on the above, I have either good news or bad news for you; if you completed Xenon 2:Megablast then congratulations, you beat one of the toughest shoot ’em ups of the era. However, if you gave up, well, I’m afraid it means that the Xenites succeeded in terminat* …killing you, and you were deleted from existence.  I appreciate that this isn’t the sort of revelation you’d expect to find whilst reading a retro games review, but, well… there it is.  Still,whilst you no longer actually exist, for the rest of us the Kardashians are a distinct reality, so – you know – swings and roundabouts.

So how exactly did the Xenites intend to carry out their plan?  Without getting into too much detail, it involved the insertion of bombs into giant crustaceans found within five distinct space-time areas. Obvious when you think about it. And how were you supposed to destroy them?  Why, destroy each boss – sorry, space crustacean, at the end of each level – sorry, space-time area.  Kill the creature and the bomb is shut off.  The Xenite plans made for the perfect shoot ‘em up.

Xenon 2 - Crustacean
Xenon 2 – Crustacean

But Xenon 2 wasn’t just renowned for its plot. You see, it also invented backwards. Yep, that’s right; the player’s spaceship could reverse the scrolling of the play area – albeit for a limited distance. Think about it, how many games allowed you to reverse prior to Megablast? Sure, you could turn PacMan around, but he couldn’t go backwards to evade the ghosts. In Space Invaders you could only move left and right, and in Asteroids you could spin around… but Reverse? Forget ‘bout it!  And was it coincidence that the Michael Jackson game, Moonwalker, came out a year after Xenon 2? I think not. Modern online FPS’s also owe a huge debt to of gratitude to the Bitmap Brothers – imagine playing Battlefield without being able to back-pedal… 

“Guys, I’m going through the door to clear the next roo… Aarggh, loads of bad guys! I’m moving backwards to get into cover! No wait I can’t because Xenon 2 didn’t invent backwards in games! I’ll have to turn and face the door I came in from and then move forwar… Ow. Ow. Ow.”

“Ahhhnnnd… I’m dead.”

Now, Megablast wasn’t entirely original; in order to survive the constant waves of Xenite ships the player needed the assistance of that genre staple, the mighty power-up. These were acquired by shooting containers floating throughout the space-time areas. 

Note: I don’t know who’s responsible for keeping power-ups under lock-and-key in shoot ‘em ups, but they need firing.

Also, if you destroyed a wave of enemies they’d leave behind bubbles; not dirty bubbles full of fear, but lovely bubbles full of credits. And where would you convert this well-earned blood money (*cough*) into heavy duty firepower? Why at Colin’s Bargain Basement of course.  If you’ve ever seen Colin you’ll know where the inspiration for the alien from Predator came from… another thing Xenon 2 deserves credit for.

Xenon 2 - Colin's Shop
Xenon 2 – Colin’s Shop

Whilst the graphics were as splendid as you’d expect from a Bitmap Brothers game, it was the soundtrack which really stood out. Megablast was a truly awe-inspiring dance track which made killing the aliens a funky experience as well as a fun one. In fact, it was so good that renowned film director John Carpenter traveled back in time to use it in his titular cops-under-siege actioner, Assault on Precinct 13.  Unfortunately the obvious conclusion to draw from this mastery of time is that Carpenter is a Xenite disguised as a human, bent on heaping misery on mankind. Which explains Escape From L.A.

Finally, in keeping with the scientific intro to this review, I present you, dear reader, with a theory. You see, those players who made it past the waves of enemy ships and defeated the end boss were congratulated by Colin, who – and this is the kicker, concedes that you’ve been playing a game the whole time by informing you that you can now turn off your computer. And the screen goes black. That’s it. Or is it?  If you’ve read Ernest Cline’s Armada you’ll know the plot revolves around the use of a shoot ‘em up to identify and recruit video gamers with the necessary skills to pilot drone ships to protect Earth from alien invaders. Could it be that Xenon 2 was more than just a game?  Did the Bitmap Brothers create Megablast for a reason far greater than entertaining the masses…?  Could the Xenites be real?

I await the call…

Video - Atari Greenlog

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