Axelay: Shooting up to #6
It’s estimated that there were well over seven hundred Super Nintendo games released in the United States alone. Now I do like to consider myself an overachieving video game nerd, but even for me that number is mind-boggling. If we broke that play session down to one dedicated hour per game for an average of eight hours a day, that would amount to a total of eighty seven and a half days. Even my calloused thumbs would be exhausted after all that power gaming. Now let’s consider the average amount that we, as kids, received as an allowance while growing up. All those nickels and dimes you got for cleaning your room or being suckered into power washing the family minivan was really only good for one thing: more games. In a good year, I was able to round up enough dough for maybe four games. If I was lucky, I would be able to broker a nonbinding contract with a few friends, hit up the Blockbuster orphanage, or head on down to the loathsome Funcoland to score a few extra games and offset my limited yearly credit. Due to my surprising lack of funds and sometimes, lack of friends, I really had to pick and choose when it was time for the chimney descending jolly fat man in a red suit to pay me a visit. I would religiously read Nintendo Power, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and any other publication that graced my grubby hands. These magazines were my holy spiritual bible. Amen. I would spend countless hours poring over each glossy page, devouring any information that was directed towards the next big release. Due to this fact, I had missed a lot of great games that didn’t have huge budgets, teams of marketing people, or entire movies dedicated to them. I’m looking at you Fred Savage.
Now that I am a grown man/child, I have a chance to go back and find these rustic relics of the past and give them another look. If video game magazines were my bible, then flea markets, garage sales, and pawnshops were my Cathedral. I regale you with this story for the simple fact that Axelay is one of those games I never had a chance to play while growing up. I am not sure how this game ever managed to bypass my meticulous judging eye but this blog was created just for this moment. As I pull the dusty, weighted cartridge from my shelves, I can see the delicious Konami logo in the upper corner. That could only mean a good thing, right? I mean come on; Konami has never made a bad game right? Did I just hear someone whisper Castlevania 64?
Axelay takes place in the fictional solar system known as Illis. An unknown alien force has been slowly decimating the surrounding systems in your peaceful galaxy and has now set its sights on your planet. After years of savage fighting, you are the only pilot left alive and the hope of all mankind rests on your weary shoulders. The D117B Axelay fighter is the last line of defense between you and the total destruction of your people.
Due to the ship’s limited attack capabilities from years of fighting a war, you must reclaim your lost weaponry from the enemy bosses. Here is where Axelay sets itself apart from other side scrolling shooters. Unlike traditional shooters, you do not have the luxury of starting with an array of planet searing weaponry. From the onset of the game you only start with a small selection of guns and bombs at your disposal. To unlock more powerful weapons you must progress through the levels and destroy your enemies to upgrade your armaments. At the start of each new level, you are given a selection of unlocked weapons and must consider the layout and enemy types of the level before making your choice.
This is an interesting setup in that it gives you a choice of what weapons to carry into a fight. Unfortunately, this also has the disadvantage of putting you between a rock and a hard place. Since you may not know what type of enemies you will encounter in the next level you have to deal with a little bit of trial and error. This can get frustrating after a while since you are only limited to two lives per continue and 4 continues ’til game over. I did find it rather interesting that on the start screen it lists 5 continue credits in the bottom corner of the screen and once you press *start* it goes down to 4. Now I do understand the need to make the game a little difficult by adding limited continues, but why the hell would they make me use one of my dwindling supply of continues just to start the damn game?
Axelay changes up the side scrolling shooter playing field by tossing in a variation of top and side views reminiscent of Life Force and Gradius. The levels consist of a surprising array of varied locations from cloudy stratospheres, watery caverns, industrial spaceports and lava planets. Each level brings on a new challenge that will test your reflexes and, after a while, may cause your eyes to bulge in concentration. The graphics for each level are surprisingly good with rich colors that stand out against a varied background and enemies that come in numerous shapes and designs. The only complaint I had was that it was sometimes hard to discern enemy ships and projectiles from the environmental backdrop.
The music for Axelay was composed by Taro Kudou who was also a game designer on such legendary titles as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and Super Castlevania IV. His melodies are a rich tapestry of soothing sounds and heart racing rifts that perfectly complement each stage. In fact, the music was such a huge success in Japan that the soundtrack was released as a 22-song disc on October 21, 1992 and published by King Records.
Let me set you straight on this right now. Axelay is a damn hard game. Unlike some of the past games I have written about though, this one does not throw cheap shots your way. You will die and you will die often. But as long as you stick to your guns, you will begin to discern a certain pattern with the oncoming enemy waves. And after repeated play-throughs, you will begin flying circles around the alien forces.
I am truly surprised that I missed this engaging title while growing up. I am glad that I was able to find this little piece of heaven at a flea market for a reasonable 5 bucks. If you ever get a chance to play this either on emulator or classic system; I recommend you give it a whirl. Just be warned; it does take deep concentration and the reflexes of a six fingered monkey but as long as you stick to it, you will be justly rewarded. Oh and if you think the good old Konami code will work for extras lives…think again. Good hunting, Axelay.
Released on the SNES, September 1992
Published by Konami
Developed by Konami