Xenon 2

Developer: The Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Some jerk
Console: Master System?
Release Date: 1989

Based on: A brutal form of human suffering believed to be unique to the Europen continent.

A typical response to my recent SMS My Card write-ups has been, "Well, what do you expect? The card games don't have nearly as much memory as a cartridge!" Then I mutely point at Galaga, which has a smaller file size than TransBot but is infinitely more fun. And then the person cries and I feel bad for him and buy him a beer. But I hate the smell of beer so I make him drink it in another room.

And in any case, we have plenty of cartridge games to prove that size truly matters not. Xenon 2, for instance.

Let's see what the official website has to say about Xenon 2:

Now that is some bold marketing hyperbole. Rockstar could learn a thing or two from these guys, because their comments appear to be describing a completely different game than the one I played.

I'm willing to concede maybe the Master System version of Xenon 2 was designed as the evil universe inverse of the Amiga game. Maybe the Amiga version is actually as fast as they claim, as beautiful as they claim. Rather than the sluggish, ugly, ear-pummeling garbage that sullied my poor SMS. But... probably not.

Graphically, it's kind of impressive. I mean, lots of graphical detail, except in the backgrounds, which are largely empty. You certainly couldn't do a game that looks like this on an NES, nope. Unfortunately, you can't really do it on Master System, either -- the slowdown and flicker are worse than the Super NES version of Gradius III, and the visuals seem horribly glitchy. Or least I assume it's a glitch when there are little invisible scenery bits that you can become hung up on, draining your ship's energy in seconds.

In terms of that elusive, all-important GamePro "fun factor," though, it's somewhere between scorpions nesting in your underwear and having some guy in hiking boots walk across your face. (I realize there are probably sexual fetish sites online somewhere for both of those things, but the rest of us aren't really into them.)

The aesthetics are similar to Abadox, in that formations of metal spheres and what appear to be livestock organs attack as you fly through formations of rock over which angry blobs meat have grown, like high-cholesterol kudzu with offensive capabilities. The gameplay is similar to vomiting, in that it's unpleasant and you feel a lot better when it's over.

Ah, well -- it was obviously born as an Amiga game, and Amiga games historically tend to prize graphical detail above all else. (Other factors you and I might consider important: control, playability, interface design, gameplay systems, that kind of thing.) And it wasn't usually even good graphical detail -- we're talking bad Deviant Art aesthetics, sort of lumpy and amateurish. Xenon 2 reminds me a bit of Shadow of the Beast, in some vague, indefinable way. Vivid (yet ugly!) graphics, lousy gameplay, poor control. (Made all the worse by the SMS controller, of course.) But at least Shadow had that cool Roger Dean logo.

I should have known I was in for a bad time when I saw it was a Bitmap Brother games. Since I'm not European, I have no particular love for their games. Or maybe I just have a distrust of sibling game developers from England. I blame the Stampers.

In conclusion, a Google search presented me with this page about conducting bizarre stress experiments on Xenon-2 in space, which seemed promising. Disappointingly, the experiment in question involved a chemical compound called xenon, and as far as I can tell no actual Xenon 2 game cartridges were exploded or destroyed in the process. What a waste of science.

Next time: a game I actually like. I promise.