Zaxxon holds the accolade of being the first arcade game advertised on television. A 30 second commercial was created by Paramount for around $150,000. The advertising seems to have had the desired effect as the game was a commercial success and one of highest earners for arcades between October 1981 and September 1982.
Zaxxon is an isometric shooter developed and published by Sega for the arcade in 1982. Over the next three years, Zaxxon was ported to the following: Aaple II, Atari 8-bit family, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, ColecoVision, Commodore 63, Dragon 32, IBM PC compatibles, Intellivision, MSX, Sega SG-1000, TRS-80, TRS-80 Color Computer, and the ZX Spectrum. Over the years, it has ben emulated to many consoles. For this review, I played the version found on the PlayStation 3 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).
You must pilot a ship through a series of heavily defended space fortresses, destroying as many enemy buildings and crafts a possible.
The aim of the game is to earn as many points as possible buy hitting various targets throughout the levels. Danger comes threefold: You must evade enemy fire, evade walls and electrical fields, and be careful not to run out of fuel. To replenish your fuel, simply destroy fuel drums when you see them. Each level also contains a certain number fo enemy planes. If you destroy all the enemy planes then you are rewarded with bonus points.
Zaxxon consists of three levels played in a loop which increase in difficulty as the game progresses. Level 1 is a fortress that you must fly through, level 2 is a battle in outer space, and the third is also a fortress culminating a boss battle at the end.
At several points throughout the fortesses, you will need to ascend or descend to fly through gaps in their defensive walls. To gauge height, your ship casts a shadow and the HUD displays a sort of altimeter.
How Does It Handle?
I think the game handles well. The controls are responsive, but it is very easy to ascend or descend unintentionally which can cause you to crash. This difficulty in judging height can become frustrating. You also need to keep pressing the fire button so be prepared for your thumb to get a workout.
Zaxxon has been credited with being the first game to use axonometric projection which emulates 3D from a third-person viewpoint.
I think the levels look really good. There is a good array of colours and detail to the levels. No complaints here.
Music and SFX
There is no music in this game, but there is a permanent sort of white noise in the background adding to the illusion of flying in space. However, the predominant noise you will hear is the pew-pew sound when you fire, followed by booms as you destroy your targets. Also, during your dogfights, when an enemy locks on to you, you will hear a distinctive beep, reminding you to perform some evasive manoeuvres.
If you like this game and have a competitive nature, you will return to this game often. It is a pity that there is no two player option.
What The Critics Said:
At present, I have yet to find a contemporary review. Wikipedia claims that an article from Computer and Video Games magazine has given Zaxxon a position review but upon reading the article they do no such thing. They simply describe how the game is played.
“I didn’t spend that much time on this game as I just didn’t enjoy playing it. The graphics and SFX are good, and the gameplay is fun if you like this sort of game. I’m not saying this game is bad, far from it. It just wasn’t for me.”
What are your memories of Zaxxon? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 Wolf, M.J.P., ‘A Brief Timeline of Video Game History’. in eds. Wolf, M.J.P. The Video Game Explosion: A history from PONG to Playstation and Beyond. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pxviii.
 Harmetz, A., (Saturday, July 3rd 1982). ‘Movie Themes Come to Video Games’. Star-News.
 ‘Industry News – AMOA Announces Jukebox and Games Awards Winners’. Cashbox. (October 30th, 1982). :37.
 Therrien, C., ‘Graphics in Video Games’. in eds. Wolf, M.J.P. The Video Game Explosion: A history from PONG to Playstation and Beyond. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p240.