(VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Zaxxon (VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Game Review

Zaxxon Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

One for the history books, but not for everyone

In 1982 Sega made a little gaming history with Zaxxon: the first 3D arcade game to use an isometric perspective – even more shockingly, it used sprite-based graphics at a time when 3D games were pretty much all being done with vectors. Whilst Zaxxon got a lot of attention due to its flashy graphics and fancy analogue flight stick, even in 1982 it was arguably over-hyped. Aside from the analogue control in the upright cabinet making the game hard to control with precision, the isometric perspective tended to cause a lot of problems for players – though neither of these issues were enough to stop the game from being a big seller in the arcades.

This Virtual Console Arcade release is quite faithful to the original without the problems of arcade louts breaking the controller, so you'll find the D-Pad or analogue stick interface will do the job of manoeuvring your ship through the alien base. As with other Sega arcade titles the Remote, Classic Controller (Pro) and Gamecube Controller are all supported and button layouts are fully customisable, including an optional rapid-fire button mapping. To increase or lower the difficulty you can adjust the number of lives and points required for a bonus as is common with VCA releases from Sega and other publishers.

It is noteworthy as the first VCA title from Sega to be formatted for widescreen televisions, probably because it originally appeared on a vertical monitor: the built-in pillarboxing is definitely preferable to having some kind of even narrower windowboxed image on your TV if you have a modern flat panel set. Of course if you don't, you can take advantage of a full range of display options, including one to display the image on its side – just in case you have a 3:4 vertical display - and the option to have virtual scan lines, if you're into that kind of thing.

Though you won't have problems with the hardware there's no getting around the issues with the game itself. The isometric perspective may look neat, but it presents the player with a lot of problems. You need to navigate through an alien base destroying ground targets, which means moving down to the ground (no bombs, only a laser – sorry!) without running into anything. You have an altimeter to tell you where your ship is, but that doesn't really help with relating to other objects overmuch and you'll rely on firing your laser to give you a clue as to where you are in relation to everything else. It doesn't take long before there's walls to fly over and then energy barriers over those walls with small gaps to fly through. You might think you could just try flying over it all, but if you try to coast through at a high altitude a homing missile will seek you out, and then there's your dwindling fuel gauge which can only be replenished by going to ground level and shooting red fuel tanks. If you've never played this game you're in for a fairly steep learning curve and a lot of frustration with hitting things and getting shot down repeatedly.

There's not that much to Zaxxon, but then it is an old arcade game: you fly through the first part of the base, then go into space to fight planes (arguably the toughest part because the only way you'll know if you're at a matching "altitude" is if an "X" flashes in front of your ship letting you know you can fire – or they shoot you down first), then into the base again to face off against the Zaxxon robot itself, noteworthy as one of the first bosses to ever appear in a video game. After that the game simply repeats with smaller gaps in the walls to navigate and faster, more challenging planes, turrets and Zaxxons.


Zaxxon is a classic arcade game and has certainly earned a place in gaming history, but there's not much to recommend it today other than its novelty. For nostalgia buffs it's most certainly worth checking out, but most gamers should probably give it a pass.

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User Comments (38)



StarBoy91 said:

Great review, Sean. I liked Zaxxon years ago, and it does take some getting used to.



The_Fox said:

Played this on the Sega collection and wasn't too impressed. Nice review!



Namo said:

Defender would get a 7 in my book. Totally addictive game there.

Zaxxon, however, I think I'd like more if the controls were direct, not rotated 45 degrees.



StarBoy91 said:

Of course, I also like the sequel, Super Zaxxon (which I played on Sega Genesis Collection on the PSP).



Corbs said:

Zaxxon was fun and challenging back in the day, but after playing it again recently, I found it a bit dull. Hasn't aged as well as some of the other 80's arcade titles.



Sean_Aaron said:

The Colecovision port was outstanding and the first time I felt properly able to play the game. Defender is my all time fave, but I think a 6 would be fair to be honest...



cheetahman91 said:

I hate this game. The isometric viewpoint makes the game next to impossible. Hopefully we'll see Congo Bongo and Flicky on the VCA soon, two of the better early Sega arcade titles.



Corbs said:

Although it's difficult for Sean and I to remove ourselves from the nostalgic point of view to review these classic coin-op titles, you have to try to view them from an "every gamer" perspective when you review them for the Virtual Console. I love these classics, and while some age better than others do, there will always be a bit of nostalgic value in them for me when I remember playing them in the old arcade days at school.



StarBoy91 said:

A little off-topic, but: I do love the arcade game Congo Bongo on Sega Genesis Collection. That's a good isometric title from Sega.



BulbasaurusRex said:

I've got a much more advanced game from the series called Zaxxon Motherbase 2000 for the Sega 32X. It's pretty good but not great. With my experience with that game and this review, I'll skip this one when it comes to NA.



JamieO said:

I unlocked arcade Zaxxon on Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (PS3). I only have a limited amount of experience with it, because it did not hold my attention, so I agree completely with Sean's review.

It is nice to see that they have set up the pillarbox and scan lines. I can appreciate that the isometric graphics were stunning for 1982, but the visuals impede on the gameplay in a way that wasn't a factor in the Neo Geo game Viewpoint. I think that Corbie's comment that VC reviews, "view them from an "every gamer" perspective " is absolutely spot on. A good point, well made.



the_shpydar said:

Great review. Zaxxon is defintely not a game for everyone, and us old timers who played it back in the 'cades will surely appreciate it more. I remember most Zaxxon machines ended up quickly broken by morons who couldn't deal with the stick. And the ColecoVision version -- that was like THE game if you had a Coleco. I remember having the 2600 port, which was actually not isometric, and more like River Raid. Still very fun, put a lot of time into that.



Ren said:

I was young but I remember it, and I also remember staying away from it, since I only had limited quarters to spend besides the one I'd save from skipping milk or snack at lunch. Too hard. Centipede or Missile Command did more for me in those days.
Edit: River Raid was bad ass!



Sean_Aaron said:

I'm surprised at the love for Congo Bongo - I remember that being even worse than Zaxxon because you were trying to do platforming. I seem to recall EGM gave it a real kicking in their review of the arcade game.



Corbs said:

I still like to play Congo Bongo, but the isometric viewpoint can be a pain from a control standpoint. Still much more fun than Zaxxon.



RowdyRodimus said:

I know it's a sin to say this, but think of how much money (and greater choice of games) a person could save by getting a used PS2 and picking up all the compilation packs that the different companies have done for these games. I know I can go to Game Traders here and pick up both SEGA arcade comps for less than a tenner.

But then again, even if the VC is overpriced, it's nice to have all the options we have at hand to get our classic gaming fix today no matter what the platform.



Ricardo91 said:

I used to have Super Zaxxon on the Genesis Collection for PSP, and I DETESTED it! Your ship moves way too slowly, and the isometric viewpoint made slipping under force fields impossible! Worst shmup I've ever played in my life, by far.



Thomas_Joseph said:

Err, SSBF1999: Why would you be looking forward to shovelware? This game originally came out before you were born, so you HAD to know how it would play before this review. Right?



TheLonelyGamer said:

I liked Zaxxon, it's a classic.
Also, SSBF1999, just because Sean rated it a 4/10 doesn't mean it's shovelware.



Slapshot said:

I absolutely HATE the angled isometric view in this game and Congo Bongo. I guess in 1982 it was great, Im not sure I was being born then, but I played both on Sega Ultimate Collection and I did like Zaxxon better and its has its fun, but its just way too hard to to realize height and where exactly you need your ship to be.



Adamant said:

@mariofanatic128: "Not for everyone" does not equal "a bad download". And it most definitely doesn't equal "shovelware", SSBF1999. Zaxxon is a classic. Read the review, not just the score.

I'd personally have rated it higher (7, probably - at least 6), but I see the logic behind the score. I just think games should be rated on their entertainment level for being what they are. Zaxxon's appeal DID largely come from "omg3Dbestgraphicsever", but it's still a fun little game.

Much more so than Congo Bongo and it's horrendously annoying controls, at least.



Kobayashi said:

Ahh, Zaxxon ! The great classic developed by Sega on the faraway 1982. Your beautiful graphics and pioneer pseudo 3D feeling made this a game ahead of your time !



MrMartinLee said:

Good review, as always, and 4 is a fair score for Zaxxon. Kobayashi's video illustrates pretty nicely that Zaxxon just isn't a good stand-alone game any more. That two and a half minutes of video is it, that's all there is, just repeating and getting faster. Nice video, btw... I remember saving my allowance for the Colecovision port, and getting my money's worth for hours on end. In 1984. Today I don't think I could play more than a couple minutes for pure nostalgia's sake. Nice to see it again, though... Anybody else play GORF and Space Fury as much as I did?



Sean_Aaron said:

@Adamant: I see your point, but "entertainment value" is extremely subjective. I have no problem paying 800 points for this game, but I also know my experience is coloured by having enjoyed playing it on Colecovision and later emulation on home computers. A higher score would feel misleading to me.

And I love Space Fury - I hope that, Tac-Scan and Pulsar are coming to VCA as well because outside of Star Trek they're my very favourite Sega arcade games.



RonF said:

I spend quite a lot of coins with this game, but I agree with the reviewer. At the time it was released, it really impressed me because of the excellent graphics but the game itself was never that good. Even so, I may download it just for nostalgic reasons.



Namo said:

Congo Bongo would be a fantastic addition to the virtual console. I'm prepared to back that up with WMDs.



CanisWolfred said:

I really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really HATE Zaxxon. Ugh, it was the worst shmup I've ever played! The Isometric view made controlling the ship a real hassle, and I could not for the life of me shoot a single plane down. Thank G-d the whole "Isometric psuedo-3D" thing never really took off, it just made everything unnecessarily complicated.



Peppy_Hare said:

Ouch! A 4! This game is a classic that holds up well even today. Couldn't disagree more with the review!

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