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Zaxxon - The Atari Times


Could there be a worse game for the 2600?
by Ethan C. Nobles

August 9, 2002
When I think about truly awful arcade ports for the 2600, Atari's Pac-Man and Parker Brothers' Reactor come to mind. However, I know an arcade port that might even worse than those two -- 1983's Zaxxon from Coleco. In addition to being an awful arcade port, Zaxxon is truly a terrible game. And, yes, there is a difference -- an arcade port can fail to emulate the game on which it's based and still be decent. Zaxxon, however, completely fails to simulate the "faux" three-dimensional shooter I played in arcades in the early 1980s, but it's also a truly miserable game that shouldn't have been released.

Now, folks with some knowledge of video game history will tell you that Zaxxon was notable because it "forced" the player to view the three-dimensional playfield in three dimensions. Indeed, the game was quite novel when it came out, and was a bit of side-scroller in which the player could control the horizontal and vertical flight of his space craft while attacking enemy ships and the like. By utilizing a height meter and the shadow of the spaceship, the game was quite good into forcing people to think in three dimensions.

I can't stress enough the fact that the main emphasis of the title was on three- dimensional gameplay. Coleco, when porting this title to the 2600, managed to completely destroy the three- dimensional aspects of the game. On the Zaxxon arcade machine, the playfield scrolled horizontally and at an angle, and the scheme "tricked" the player into thinking in three- dimensions. However, the 2600 version shows the perspective from behind the ship, and truly knocks the visuals out of whack by altering the game so dramatically. Furthermore, it's really hard to judge height on the game, and that hurts the illusion of three dimensions, too.

But wait, it gets worse. The graphics are absolutely blocky and horrible. Remember all the strides Activision made with great titles like River Raid, Tennis and a host of others. How about Imagic with beautiful titles like Demon Attack or Atari itself with fantastic graphics packed into Moon Patrol, Jungle Hunt and later titles like Solaris? The aforementioned games proved the old 2600 could crank out some respectable graphics in the hands of programmers who knew how to push the machine to its limits. None of those programmers were available for Zaxxon, and the game makes early Atari titles like Night Driver, Outlaw, Combat and even Surround look good by comparison. Honestly, the graphics are blocky, objects on the screen flicker too much, and the game is just plain ugly.

Because the three- dimensional perspective is ruined in the game, controlling the ship is a rather moot point. It's hard to figure out the altitude the ship is flying at, so timing shots and the like is very difficult.

And, the sound is even worse. You get the typical "bloops" and "smashes" you'd expect from the shooter. You also get a constant din that can be best described as "white noise." That awful noise is supposed to simulate the engines of the spaceship. The noise never lets up a bit and could possibly drive a person insane.

Fortunately, I doubt many people will play this awful title long enough to go insane. It's just too horrible to contend with for long. This title, honestly, looks about half finished. Coleco should have never tried to port Zaxxon to the 2600 if the company couldn't do any better than this. Perhaps Coleco just didn't care about the trash it floated out there for the 2600 and preferred to concentrate on titles for its own system, the ColecoVision. Stay away from this awful title. It will just frustrate you.


(c) Coleco

Never forget who was responsible for this game!
Jeez, I died already!
The fuel tanker graphic doesn't look too bad.
The final boss character doesn't put up too much resistance.
System: 2600
Publisher: Coleco
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 20%
Sound & Music Score: 15%
Gameplay Score: 15%
Control Score: 20%

Final Score: 19%

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