Zaxxon – Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?

Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?” Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:

Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.

Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.

Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.

Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.

Although we tend to think more of Irem and Treasure when we think of traditional shoot ’em ups, there was a time when Sega had the most popular shooter of it’s time. Breaking from classic 2-D gameplay, this game introduced axonometric projection or isometric gameplay to give the illusion of playing a 3-D game. It allowed your craft to move up and down in addition to left or right and quickly became a huge hit. Featuring progression similar to Activision’s River Raid, this shooter would go on to be so popular Milton Bradley even made a board game out of it. It’s nearly twenty-eight years since the original release of Zaxxon and people have forgotten that it spawned three sequels: Super Zaxxon for the arcade, Zaxxon 3-D for the Sega Master System and Zaxxon Motherbase 2000 for the Sega 32X. Today the Diehard GameFAN crew takes a look at this shooter and decides what, if any, future this one popular Sega franchise has.

Zaxxon


D.J. Tatsujin – Start Over
A couple of times on this site, I’ve talked about the mall arcade I used to frequent that had the Raiden cabinet I would come back to time and again. Funny enough, there was a reason I would also walk across the way to go to the movie theater. Yeah, obviously I was watching movies at cheap, matinee prices there, but before and after the movie you would see me dropping a quarter into their Zaxxon cabinet. Prior to moving to that city, all of my experience with Zaxxon came as a child as I would attempt to maneuver through the death fields with my EPYX joystick on my Commodore 64. I would of course experience this title on consoles again when I later revisited the SEGA Master System, which attempted to pitch players 3-D glasses to try and sell them on Zaxxon‘s “isometric” gameplay. No matter what format I played it on though, it always proved to bring me back time and again because as a child, the game was challenging, forcing me to think beyond the 2-D Mario-type games I was most accustomed to. Even today, the game is still fairly challenging, throwing a lot of projectiles at players while having them navigate a treacherous environment. I can’t say I’d really want to see the game come back in its original form as a downloadable, but it has been serviceable as a part of an extensive collection of retro games.

As such, I would be inclined to believe the Zaxxon name does have a little bit of retro credibility, so I don’t really see the harm in keeping the name as those not familiar with the title would be none the wiser (although they will be probably be alerted to the correlation thanks to the trillions of video game news websites). However, I really don’t want to see the original game slapped with new graphics. We would really need to start fresh with this title as the “isometric” novelty will probably just be nothing but annoying to current gamers. You definitely want to keep the robotic themes and space overtones, sending players through some cramped quarters that require pinpoint navigation while throwing a decent amount of enemies at them. In today’s industry, the old format just won’t cut it anymore. I would love to see the series be re-imagined in the rail shooter format – akin to Star Fox, without copying it. You could put players behind the ship and have these intimidating obstacles fly straight at the player’s face. You could even wrap the game up with a towering Zaxxon robot boss, that, if handled correctly, could wow players with its massive presence. If Konami can throw Gradius into the decent rail shooter Solar Assault for arcades (which had some great bosses and effects for its time), the same hope can be held for Zaxxon and the current technology.

Then again, you also have to factor in the point of SEGA not exactly having a fantastic track record of its prior franchises at the moment. Still, I’d rather see the company take a crack at something a little more fresh like Zaxxon as opposed to seeing another Sonic the Hedgehog furry frenzy abomination. The original game itself practically sets the guidelines for taking the game into an immersive format, so taking advantage of such should, in theory, lend itself into creating a quality shooter experience. The game doesn’t even have to be extravagant as long as it crafts a satisfying experience. It could be something that people can pick up for $10-15 on one of the various downloadable formats. The original gameplay premise is just a little too awkward for most players to bring back as is, but there is at least a little bit of stock in the name, which is a change from what I normally type in these columns. If SEGA went back to the drawing board, took advantage of the current hardware and maintained the frantic navigation of the original title, we really could have a winner on our hands.


Mark B. – Start Over
So hey, I’m back! Didja miss me?

… screw you too, then.

Anyway, I sincerely doubt that Zaxxon is a name that’s immediately going to spawn massive sales, but there is merit to bringing the franchise back in some form or fashion. Now, the obvious choice is to turn the franchise into some sort of involved space flight simulator of some sort, complete with dramatic narrative, galactic space battles and some Star Wars or Star Trek concepts thrown in for good measure. Since that didn’t work out too well for Project Silpheed and no one really wants to play that anyway, I’m going to say that the IDEAL option here is to simply re-make Zaxxon as a full-on shooter. The new game could use the basic concepts created by the original game, but then employ modern technology in its execution. In other words, the dev team would make the game all pretty-like, either with high-resolution sprites or decent 3D, keep the mechanics intact, and then release the game as a downloadable game for XBLA/PSN/WiiWare, ideally for something like ten to fifteen dollars.

Now, there is, of course, the fear that Sega-Sammy might be incapable of performing this task admirably or that the original game might not hold up as well some two decades later, but I’m going to say that neither of these issues is actually that problematic. Sega has a long history of solid arcade games, even post-merger, and frankly, the arcade version of Zaxxon is pretty fun, even now, on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, so a modernized sequel could be even more fun. I mean, hey, I never would have thought remaking Bionic Commando using the same mechanics of the NES game in the modern era would be a good idea, but Bionic Commando Re-Armed is fantastic, so maybe remaking Zaxxon with two-player co-op and some variable weapons types could be pretty awesome. I’m willing to take that chance.


Christopher Bowen – Stay Dead
Zaxxon was famous because it did something few arcade games did well in 1983: adding a third dimension to gameplay. Not only could you go left or right, you could go up and down as well on an isometric field. It wasn’t really 3D gameplay, but it was as close as stand-up cabinet games got back then (I say that to differentiate between Zaxxon and Star Wars, which was about 10 years ahead of its time).

The gimmick of Zaxxon became obsolete about a year or two after its ’83 release. Where else could they go? Sure, they could have gone Time Pilot ’84 on us, but Time Pilot ’84 isn’t as well remembered as the original for a reason: it was a gimmicky cash-in, and not as good. Now, in 2009, to think that Zaxxon could come back and still be relevant is not something I think can happen. This is assuming someone tried to really incorporate what made Zaxxon great into a new game, and didn’t remake it like those crappy Atari remakes on the PSX from the 90s. Zaxxon‘s style of gameplay doesn’t really work anymore in 2009, and to deviate too much from that makes Zaxxon just another space shooter, of which there are already better games. Like Star Wars Rogue Squadron.


Alex Lucard – Stay Dead
I love the original Zaxxon. I’ve played through all three sequels, but Sega was never even able to come close to the same magic they made in the original. I even owned the board game as a kid but it was boring as hell, so it rarely came down off the shelf. I mean, why play a long slow board game based on a video game when you could play the real thing, right?
I’ve been playing the arcade version via the Japanese Virtual Console lately here and there for the past week and the game has aged nicely. The only problem is that the average gamer’s tastes have dramatically changed in twenty-eight years since this game came out. Back in the mid 1980’s Shoot ‘Em Up’s like Gradius and Lifeforce were kings and Zaxxon provided a very different way to get that genre of gaming goodness in. As much as I would love to see a well made sequel to the same, Sega has proved incapable of doing so three times before, so I strongly doubt the fourth will be any different.
The original Zaxxon is definitely a game worth experiencing , but gamers today wouldn’t appreciate it if something similar came out in the tail end of 2009, so why kid ourselves. It’d be silly to just use the name because the only people whose interest would be piqued are geezers like myself and then we’d all be outraged over how different the new game was. I say let Zaxxon rest save for the occasional re-release of the original.


End Result:
Start Over: 2
Stay Dead: 2
Spin-Off: 0
Sequel: 0


So we have a tie this week. It appears we are torn between letting Sega try to revive the franchise or being afraid of just that since it is Sammy Sega we are talking about. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Sega does when it gets bored with milking a dead hedgehog.

Next week we’re taking a look at another Sega franchise. It was considered Sega’s biggest franchise for the Sega Saturn in North America and the last game in the series goes for over $100 or more on Ebay. The fourth and final entry into the series came out nearly seven years ago and won our 2003 Xbox Game of the Year award. We’ll see you next week for that one.

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