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Playing on the Atari 7800 isn't as lovely and crisp as the arcade, but right from the off, Xevious gets straight to the point - it's all about the gameplay.
You're dumped onto the map, it starts scrolling and it's up to you to get ready to make some progress and blow some stuff up. One button fires forward, so that you can destroy all kinds of whizzy shapes crossing the screen, and the other launches a bomb that shortly lands, hopefully on target, to see emplaced turrets reduced to rubble. Move your ship any which way to dodge incoming fire (so long as it's in one of the 8 directions your joystick moves in) and you're basically set to go.
For those of us who perhaps want a bit of backstory to the game we're playing, to find out who we are or what we're shooting and why and so on, all you need to know is that whatever is said to have happened in the world of Xevious is mental and unnecessary. Something about aliens that aren't aliens, some clones, rebels, biocomputers. It's the 80's, here's the game, just play it already.
So play it you do, and it's not terrible. You learn how fast you can fire, how to time your bombs, whether that thing on the ground needs to be destroyed or can just be avoided, and you make more and more progress through the area, onto more difficult sections.
There are no weapon upgrades to mix up the gameplay a little bit, so the only thing you've got to help you out are your own skills, particularly how fast you can react to incoming threats and move out of their way.
Soon you learn you can do a pacifist run and you try to see how far you can get without firing a shot. Then you find out that depending on where you blew up, you might still advance to the next section anyway. Then you wonder whether all you are doing is pressing buttons for the sake of giving your fingers something to do, or watching a score increase so your brain gets a few more feel-good chemicals.
It's easy to play, difficult to master, but you're left with a bit of a muted feeling, a kind of "Huh. Is that it?"
Xevious is a popular game, even a large series of games, ported everywhere these days, but it's much more popular in Japan than it is in the US or Europe. I wonder if there's a reason for that. Do Westerners not like the colour grey? There's a lot of it, no matter how good those grey things look on the arcade screens.
I can happily play Xevious, making slow progress but progress all the same, it's just that I don't want to. Perhaps I yearn to be in space once again, only in front of something more colourful. I can't put my finger on it, it's just that I'm straight down the middle on it.
You might like it for 5 minutes, you might like it for 5 hours. I'm not sold on it.
The game was perhaps the first to be advertised on American television. 'Perhaps' doesn't make for a great 'fact', but it's a better tidbit to know than "there is a creators' credit easter-egg a la Adventure".
Xevious, developed by Namco, first released in 1982.
Version played: Atari 7800, 1988, via emulation.