First effort from a brand new programming team known as Whiz Kidz, this is a horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up with more action than you can throw a guided missile at. The format is familiar: fly along as dexterously as possible, kill or avoid baddies, pick up special weapons pods and take on the big guy at the end of the level. Put him out of his misery and zoom on to the next level.
The aliens are all fair game, just take your pick. There are pincers, invincible metallic pods that erupt with fireballs, animated towers that pump out death in your direction and pulse-laser pods. From the centre of the screen come caterpillar flying saucers and more metallic stuff that releases more fireballs.
Meanwhile, attached to the fabric are a number of misleadingly attractive crystal balls. Shoot one and you do not get a chance to apologise. As if that is not enough, lurking at the back are the spinning silver ballcocks of death. This is just Level One.
The end-of-level baddie is the kind of problem estate agents often describe as "mature foliage", a whole bunch of overgrown flowers which cling to the roof, wall and floor of the fabric tunnel and spit white-hot fireballs. However there are a couple of (relatively) safe spots and once you have found these the ostentatious alien is much easier to cope with.
Level Two brings a new colour scheme, fresh backgrounds and even more adversaries, including the ground-launched armoured homing missiles and a type of alien that I can only attempt to describe as the bad bouncing bastards, because they are. And so on ad infinitum, apparently.
To reduce your chances of being blown into oblivion, so that this fate is something slightly short of inevitable, weapons pods appear along your way, spinning and bobbing and daring you to fly out of the least deadly flight path in order to collect them. The more you collect, the better the special weapon you are given.
These extras include the usual shields, homing missiles, rear-firing weapons and side-mounted weapons, all of which are then represented by icons running along the top of the screen.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics are very polished. Chunky sprites fling themselves all over the screen above five levels of parallax scrolling background which takes the form of an esoteric biomass littered with rocks against a star background. It is possible to collide with some of this, but it is impossible to tell the safe scenery from the deadly.
The mood is set by a truly creamy opening sequence, an atmospheric title screen, some tension-building animation and a fairly adept rendering of zooming through more parallax star backgrounds. On-screen text varies from unoriginal but readable to Roger Dean with rivets. As for the sound, it has not suffered for the sake of graphics. Explosioins and gun/rocket fire are catered for adequately but there is some malevolent background music, especially in the title sequence.
You play with credits, getting a number of lives per credit. Lives are instantly replaced when lost and the programmers have thrown in a moment or two's worth of invulnerability for good measure (the whole affair would amount to sheer carnage otherwise) but credits are offered during a ten-second countdown. Lose a life, by the way, and you lose any special weapons.
It would have been a corker if only something more original had been the end result of all this work. The fact that it is well trodden territory has to leave you a little jaded, despite some of the wonderful finishing work. Other quibbles include questionable collision detection (though I am assured the sprites themselves are "quite clever") and two apparently useless special weapons. But on top of it all, Ziriax is just too difficult. Only those who completed Xenon II stand a chance of seeing past Level Two and that is not just a shame, it is a mistake.