PUBLISHED: Namco (Japan); Bandai (US, EU)
ALSO ON: Like Pac-Man, just about everything.
RELEASE DATE: 11/08/84 (JP), 09/1988 (US), 10/25/89 (EU)
Xevious! The influential gamechanger that bores me to tears.
In 1983, this vertically scrolling shoot-em-up was revolutionary. Two different forms of attack! Numerous kinds of enemies! 16 different stages! Constant progression, sort of! Japan loved it and the game sold gangbusters. America shrugged its shoulders and only a few thousand cabinets were sold by the end of 1983. I am America, sans the Xevious cabinets.
Ready to mow down this broccoli patch.
I don’t pretend to know what 1983 felt like, so I’m going to take historians at their word when they say that Xevious broke all sorts of ground. In my eyes, the shoot-em-up genre advanced by such leaps and bounds by the mid-to-late 80s (Gradius, R-Type, etc.), Xevious would have felt outdated upon its NES release in September 1988. Perhaps it did, but the game was beloved enough to receive several sequels and be re-released into oblivion, both by itself and on various compilations. For many people, Xevious remains a special game.
What drew people into Xevious‘ looping tone-deaf soundtrack or its generic environments? You control a starship named Solvalou and your mission is to destroy all the Xevious forces. Solvalou has two modes of attack, a gun that shoots dual projectiles and a bomb for ground enemies; basically, shoot things that move or, if they’re on the ground, bomb them to hell. The enemy design is all over the place, ranging from circles to “Star Wars”-inspired ships to rotating cafeteria trays. The level design is a boring blend of forests, ocean, and desert, repeated until your eyes can’t process green, blue, and orange anymore.
Lunch is canceled.
As you progress through the tedium, you realize that this shoot-em-up has no power-ups, no level breaks, and no reason to keep playing unless you love point collecting. I’ll forgive the lack of power-ups; 1983 and all. No level breaks is weird, but whatever. But as I steered Solvalou through the unending landscapes filled with nothing except the occasional enemy, I asked myself: what am I doing here? Why am I playing this game?
The Famicom version of Xevious was an enormous success, selling (according to Wikipedia) over 1.26 million copies in Japan. That’s a lotta copies! If I was a Japanese kid kickin’ it in 1984, I probably would have loved Xevious too. Unfortunately, the Famicom port is incredibly rough to interact with these days. The hastily scrawled environments look like they’re lifted right from a kid’s placemat at some forgotten American diner. That ever-present looping music? Yeah, still there, still ready to irritate the hell out of you. The latter points are probably forgivable if you already love Xevious, but since I don’t, they stand out, like one of those rotating cafeteria trays.
It’s the tedium that binds us.
As previously mentioned, the NES port released in September 1988, which is just incredibly late. By this point, the NES had 1942, Gradius, Alpha Mission, and even Life Force. A mere month later, in October 1988, 1943 was released on the NES, and the shoot-em-up selection only increased from there. Xevious never stood a chance.
Xevious made Namco a tremendous amount of money, and older Japanese folks probably still have a fondness for the game. But there’s a reason Xevious doesn’t linger in the cultural consciousness like another Namco staple, Pac-Man. Pac-Man and his wife all but perfected the simple maze game formula, in both their original 80s incarnations and in subsequent modern revisions like Pac-Man Championship Edition. Xevious certainly expanded on what shoot-em-ups were capable of, but the genre has grown considerably in style and technique in the decades since. As such, despite its initial overwhelming success, Xevious feels like little more than a dusty time capsule.
Finally dead. Hooray!