The Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as many of the defenses as you can in the meantime. (Sega, 1984)
Memories: In 1984, Sega entered the home video game business for the first time, with their first Stateside products being games for the Atari 2600 and 5200. Some of the titles released – Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Zaxxon specifically – had already been licensed by Coleco for the ColecoVision, and Coleco had even released Zaxxon for other systems such as the 2600. But Sega wanted its own piece of the pie, and not just licensing percentages, when it came time to release more of their properties for home video game systems.
Sega clawed the license for Zaxxon back for its release on the Atari 5200, and the result was attractively packaged, if a little uneven in the game play department. Much like the ColecoVision version of Zaxxon, the 5200 edition lacks much of the background details that made the coin-op such a treat for the eyes. But it also lacks a lot of other things – namely, any significant increase or decrease in the apparent size of your fighter depending on altitude, and other vital visual cues which are almost a must when playing Zaxxon. The result is a game with some questionable collision detection, in which you’re likely to suddenly crash into ground-based fuel tanks and other obstacles while you thought you were at a safe cruising altitude.
Some other changes were made to the game for the 5200 edition, namely the exclusion of the ground-based missile silos which had a nasty habit of nailing players in flight in the coin-op version, and the addition of hostile fire from grounded enemy fighters inside the fortress, despite the fact that they’re not airborne. Did someone tell Anakin Skywalker to hide inside those planes or something?
Perhaps the biggest shock – and also the biggest laugh – comes at the end of the level, where you’re expecting the enormous Zaxxon robot to barrel down on you, ready to fire its missile. What emerges at the level’s end is more like a disgruntled Transformer, and appears to be dwarfed by your fighter! (Not that this makes it any easier to kill, mind you.)
Overall, it’s fun tempered by frustration, and was one of only four games to be released by Sega for the 5200 (the others were adaptations of Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and Congo Bongo, along with Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom).