IN almost any industry, timing is the single most important factor deciding whether a product will be a immediate hit or a total failure. On many occasions single days have meant the difference between glory and defeat.
The reason for this little parable is Xenon, the first release for the Amiga by Melbourne House, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mastertronic. Based on the well known arcade game, it could have gone down as the greatest shoot-'em-up for the Amiga, except that it was released almost simultaneously with Sidewinder (this time by Mastertronic), a game which is at least as good, and less than half the price.
Now correct me if you wish, but I would say that Mastertronic has shot itself in the foot.
Anyway, enough hypothesising. As with all games that software houses expect you to pay £19.95 for, Xenon comes with a - thankfully - small novella, telling the story of how you must go the aid of a Captain Xod who is apparently in deep... well, considerable trouble.
To succeed in your mercy mission, you must fight your way through 16 different zones collecting essential supplies for the fleet on the way. Each time you complete a zone you have an opportunity to refuel and rearm, but only after you have dealt with a huge Nemesis-like alien.
Anyone who has played the arcade version of Xenon will immediately feel at home, for to give the programmers behind the game credit where it's due, they have produced one of the most complete and accurate arcade conversions I have ever seen.
For those of you who have not played the arcade game, Xenon is a twin-role fighter. Depending on what the situation demands, you can either use a ground based multi-directional tank, or a faster vertically flying aircraft.
One of the most annoying features of Xenon is the method of changing from one craft to another, something that in most cases needs to be done in a hurry. You must either tap the spacebar or move the joystick from side to side.
If you are not too busy with the aliens the spacebar is no problem, but the joystick is little short of a pain. On more than one occasion I found myself changing the ship purely through the ferocity of my joystick movements. This always ended in unexpected death.
As you travel onward and upward, killing the right aliens and gun turrets will result in your ship becoming an increasingly potent force. As with games such as Nemesis and Salamander, these extras include increased fire power, multiples - invisible ships which fly and fire in parallel - increased speed, and homing missiles, among others.
Graphically, Xenon is very good. Detailed sprites and excellent backdrops ranging from Uridium-
The animation, too, is up to standard with smooth scrolling and very little juddering or slowing of the screen, even when the game gets very frantic - and it certainly does get.
One thing that did not really impress me was David Whittaker's music. He has been at the forefront of Commodore 64 music for some time now, but this - which I suspect may be his first commercial Amiga soundtrack - is not quite up to scratch. Sure it's fast and thumping, but when you consider what the Amiga is capable of...
The right hand control panel of the game (apart from the game logo) is used to display the amount of fuel remaining. Each time you are hit by one of the baddies this fuel reserve diminishes until, when you have nothing left, a life is lost. More fuel is, however, available each time you complete a level.
Xenon is a good, fast, exciting and enjoyable shoot-'em-up. It hardly drains the brain, but then that's not what it is supposed to do. Unfortunately, it provides little if anything that you can't get for half the price in Sidewinder. If however, you already own Sidewinder and are looking for something the same, Xenon's for you.