Approximate Release Date: September 14, 1992
Genre: Scrolling shooter
Wow. Axelay is a gorgeous game.
I’m always a fan of when any game developer looks at whatever technical constraints exist at the time and takes advantage of that fact. If you check out any of the shooters on the Super Nintendo thus far, nearly all of them struggle to maintain a proper framerate. Genesis versions of the few cross-platform releases tend to be better in most respects. If I had to guess, the comparatively weaker computer processor in the SNES really hampered these CPU-hungry games. But the SNES has the much ballyhooed Mode 7 technical wizardry, and Axelay takes advantage of it.
Axelay is visually interesting because many stages appear to take place high above a planet, so the player is always flying into the horizon. Enemies gradually fade into view, and bullets from the player’s ship disappear in the distance. This is a very cool effect, and I’m struggling to name other games that use this perspective. These levels stand out, and are what you’ll remember about Axelay. There are more traditional, side-scrolling stages scattered throughout. These stages are nice looking, with lots of details and various moving parts in the foreground and background, but they aren’t nearly as impressive.
It might seem strange to spend so much time talking about the game’s graphics, but that’s Axelay‘s claim to fame. The parts where you’re shooting down ships is solid but won’t surprise anyone. Before each level you can swap out different parts in your ship’s three weapon slots – which the player can switch between by pressing the L and R buttons – and new weapons are unlocked as you get further into the game. It’s a cool system, and the ideal loadout seems to be based around player preference than requiring a “correct” set of arms for each level. When you get hit, you lose whatever weapon you have equipped, so nothing is explicitly required to defeat foes.
It isn’t revolutionary, but Axelay is a fantastic shooter that holds up today. The only major beef I have with it is that there are only six levels – three of each style – which would have made this a disappointing full-priced purchase in 1992. But today, when you can snag it for 8 bucks on the Wii Virtual Console? It’s a steal.
Tomorrow: It’s strange, but Faceball 2000 for the Game Boy was my first-ever first-person shooter. Can the Super Nintendo version hold up?