Developed by The Assembly Line/The Bitmap Brothers and published by Image Works in 1989.
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Following their defeat at your hands at the conclusion of the original Xenon, the Xenites are back and this time they’re angry. In fact, they’re so angry that they’ve only gone and planted time-bombs in an attempt to disrupt the fabric of time and space itself. Only you and your heavily-armed attack vessel, the Megablast, can hope to prevail against the Xenite threat and ensure humankind’s continued safety.
Xenon 2 is the highly successful and much-lauded sequel to what was a fairly average vertical shoot ’em up, and is regarded as another true Amiga classic.
The game itself is a fairly straightforward shoot ’em up this time around. The transformation between aerial and ground combat vehicles has been ditched, simplifying the game design. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that “simple” means easy, because this is easily one of the hardest and most frenetic shmups on the Amiga.
The game hurls numerous waves of strange, bio-organic Xenite foes at you, which you must attempt to dispatch as quickly as possible. The enemies move extremely quickly and their attack paths can cover the entire screen; while some enemies do fire projectiles, it’s far more important avoid colliding with them.
Holding down the fire button fires your ship’s weapons, but the rate of fire is painfully slow unless you buy the rapid fire power-up from the shop. You can fire more quickly by repeatedly tapping the the fir button, but this becomes tiring very quickly; I must confess that I resorted to using an auto-fire joystick to prevent my fingers from dropping off. Even with the auto-fire enabled, the game is still rock solid.
Destroying all enemies in an attack wave releases special credit bubbles. Grabbing these adds to the amount of cash that you can spend on ship upgrades in the shop. The bubbles don’t hang about and will quickly disappear from the screen if not collected in time.
Perhaps one of the more unconventional features of the game is that each stage features branching paths that require you to fly through narrow, rocky channels. Some of these routes lead to dead ends, where you will need to pull back on the joystick to engage your reverse thrusters and navigate your way out. Fortunately, your ship doesn’t take damage when colliding with the scenery, although this is small blessing as trying to avoid oncoming enemies and projectiles is difficult.
As with other Bitmap Brothers games, there is a comprehensive upgrade system, which allows you to equip all manner of upgrades, extra weapons and power-ups to your ship. Although upgrades can occasionally be collected from capsules in each level, you’ll acquire the majority of your hardware from the shop. Upon entering, the surly alien vendor will allow you to sell upgrades that you no longer want, as well as purchase new equipment using the cash you managed to collect during the level. The interface for the buying and selling is pretty slick and easy to navigate. Once transactions are complete, you’ll be booted back into the vacuum of space, ready to continue the fight.
Aesthetically, the game features some fantastically pretty graphics, courtesy of Mark Coleman. The graphics and design certainly feel ahead of their time, especially considering the game was released in 1989.
Probably the most iconic feature of the game is the music, which begins playing from the off. The track in question is Megablast (Hip Hop on Precinct 13) by Bomb The Bass, albeit reworked to fit into the game. I suspect that the track is much more famous for being the soundtrack to Xenon 2 than as part of the album for which it was originally written.
The only real problem with the game lies in a misjudged difficulty level. Whereas most games have a difficulty curve that eases you into the game and gets progressively more challenging, here the opposite is true. The game treads a very fine line between fun and frustration, with more than an occasional lurch towards the latter.
All of the Bitmap’s games were tough, but their later releases increasingly struck the correct balance between difficulty and accessibility as they became more accomplished with each successive release.