Have You Played… Xenon 2: Megablast

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

You know when your first experience of a genre is the one that defines it for you? As an 11 year old, Xenon 2 was shoot-em-ups, and I adored it. It was only years later that I learned how unliked it was.

Not on release, you understand. The Bitmap Bros. shmup received rave reviews, huge scores in the 90s, and was enormously celebrated… until you looked a bit closer. Times were tough in 1989 if you wanted your games to look pretty, and Xenon 2 looked very pretty. And sounded amazing, with music from the likes of Bomb The Bass. People got a little over-excited, perhaps. Once you got to the awkward words of the review they’d mention things like, “It’s a bit hard to see what’s going on,” and “The collision detection could be better”.

Months later, the wind came out of that. The very polite Amiga Format gave it an enormous 93% on release, but three short years later the CDTV port got a measly 32%. It didn’t age well, it seems.

But for me, at 11, it was fabulous. Those bubbles! The way that, er, I dunno, you shot stuff! The way it was the only schmup I’d ever played! And so it can never lose its shine for me, so long as I’ve the sense to never play it again.

58 Comments

  1. Stevostin says:

    23% seems excessively negative. Console at the time were miles behind amiga in term of how nice it looked and sounded. And BTW much of the celebrated Shoot Em Up there were silly unfair. I had a NEC Coregraphx, king console for shooters, and an Amiga, and I doubt I played more legendary Gunhead that Xeno 2. Xenon 2 was beautiful, edgy and rrrreally not that bad of a game, with interesting powerups. But you did need the right joystick to play it for sure.

  2. LeiHarper says:

    God, I loved this game so much. Getting every single cash bubble was such a challenge. To be able to get towards the end of the game with fully upgraded weapons…a cannon and a laser on each side along with the multi-shot drone to the rear was awesome. Basically to recreate the loadout you’d get by buying the short-lived “Super Nashwan Power” upgrade.

    I think I only stopped playing it when Battle Squadron came out for the Amiga instead. If I recall correctly, Amiga Computing made the foolish error of giving Xenon 2 a 100% review so when the superior Battle Squadron was released they had to do something truly stupid and give Battle Squadron 108% or similar.

    Good times. I miss my Amiga Shmup days…

    • syndrome says:

      Xenon 2 has likely come after Battle Squadron, also it has been much more pretty and engaging in almost every respect. For me, at least.

      I liked Silkworm (1988) and SWIV (1991) as well.

      • LeiHarper says:

        Battle Squadron’s best feature was its two player co-op, that was something of a rarity in Shmups.

        SWIV was great too. So many great Shmups on the Amiga…All those we mentioned, R-Type, Apidya, the list goes on…

        • syndrome says:

          True, I wasn’t into shmup coop until later, so I’ve disregarded that. Silkworm and SWIV were awesome in that regard!

          Silkworm was basically side-scrolling SWIV, not many people know about it, sort of a prequel to SWIV. Even my mother played it. Now that seems almost impossible, like some sort of crazy alternate history.

          • LeiHarper says:

            IIRC SWIV was an acronym: “SilkWorm Is Vertical”.
            SWIV was its direct sequel. Both games had a chopper and a jeep I think? I know Silkworm did but I can’t remember if SWIV was 2-player also.

          • fuggles says:

            KiSwiv – special weapons interdiction vehicles.

            The sequel to silkworm and also notable for the cheat code ncc1701d. You also end the game by getting a p45 as I recall as you did your job so well.

            It was two player. Player two had a jeep which could lock it’s firing direction and move independently. It could also jump and sometimes became a boat.

            Beware the goose copter!

          • syndrome says:

            @fuggles
            You’re kidding me?
            Me and my brother called it a ‘duck’ or simply a ‘bird’ (in our language).

      • LexW1 says:

        SWIV and Silkworm were totally amazing. I loved Xenon 2, and can immediately start singing the music (whether you want me to or not!), but SWIV/Silkworm played so amazingly well, they were just a joy where Xenon 2 was just visually and musically awesome.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        SWIV! Oh holy Christmas lights that takes me back. Hadn’t thought about that one in years. What is a younger sibling for, if not to play as the jeep?

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      DuncUK says:

      The true mark of a Xenon II grandmaster was near the end of the game to get a ship so heavily upgraded that the temporary upgrades afforded by ‘Super Nashwan Power’ were actually a downgrade on your normal loadout.

      I do remember doing it although I can’t remember if I was using cheats. I like to think I wasn’t.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Big Dunc says:

    I wasn’t aware of the backlash against this – all I know is that I had this on the Atari ST and it was absolutely fantastic. The graphics, sound and music were way ahead of their time. This was how games looked like in them thar arcades!

  4. sonofsanta says:

    Backlash what? Why? It was so lovely! Admittedly I was also an uncritical 8 year old playing this on my Amiga, but I loved the escalation of power you got from the power ups. And the music was amazing to my little ears.

  5. syndrome says:

    I was ten at the time. Xenon 2 and Lemmings (a year later) were the first games that I observed up close, trying to decipher pixel art tricks. Xenon 2 was also the first game with fake “voiceovers” I’ve ever seen (the shopping alien was basically going blablabla with few sampled syllables, it was so effective and it still is). I remember I was fascinated with the possibilities, and with how imaginative developers were. Also, those bubbles and the general animation juiciness…

    • LeiHarper says:

      The Bitmap Brothers had some really great pixel art and a very interesting style. I remember that style went across many of their titles…Xenon 2, The Chaos Engine and Magic Pockets all come to mind.

      Oh! And Speedball 2! How could I forget that?!

      • syndrome says:

        All faves!!
        Bitmap Brothers were the best, along with Psygnosis.

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          phuzz says:

          Team 17 had a pretty great run between about 1990 and ’94 of only releasing good games (Alien Breed, Project X, Super Frog, Arcade Pool etc.) for years. Then they left the Amiga and mainly only re-released versions of Worms.
          But check out the 90’s awesomeness that is their logo.

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        Risingson says:

        I must add with my pink nostalgia shades that the best part of early vga 90s games is how every developer house had its own style. You can guess a game from Westwood, Silmariils, Bitmap Brothers or Titus just with a screenshot.

      • Neutrino says:

        Icecream!!

  6. SBLux says:

    To all the DJ’s that think they’re the greatest, just stop look and listen ’cause you havent heard the latest…

  7. TotallyUseless says:

    At first glance this reminds me of Tyrian 2000.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Probably had some influence on that. I believe The Last Eichhof was also based on Xenon 2.

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        Risingson says:

        And the father of both was R-type. And of that one, Salamander. Cronenbergian/Alien new flesh horror fits pretty well the shoot em up genre.

      • Rane2k says:

        Dude, thanks for reminding me of The Last Eichhof (or beer.exe as I knew it ^^), havenĀ“t thought of that one for years..

        I think that was actually my first encounter with “bullet hell” gameplay.

  8. genosse says:

    Kim Justice released a nice history of the Bitmap Brothers a few days ago on youtube, and I recommend watching it.

    For me, Xenon was always way too hard, even (or especially?) as a kid, but all Bitmap Brother’s games had this special kind of magic that made me play them again and again, despite failing.

    Great sound, great graphics and very distinctive art direction. They could do magic with those 32 colors, seriously, everything oozed quality.

    A game doesn’t age well on graphics alone though, which might explain the bad ratings three years later … Xenon was at it’s heart a very basic, hard and slow shooter that brought nothing new to the table. Today we might call it a tech-demo.

    Anyway, for me Bitmap Brother’s games were as top notch as you could get on the Amiga, maybe together with Psygnosis’. You Brits did really good back then! ;)

  9. wcq says:

    The Bitmap Bros. schmup received rave reviews…

    John Walker, this unforgivable error has caused me to instantly and permanently lose all of the respect I had for you as a writer.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Can’t even claim that’s spontaneous German, even Germans know shoot’em up as a term. Though we insist on Jump’n’Run for platformers.

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      John Walker says:

      Heh – you’ve got to admit it looks more right with that C in there!

  10. KDR_11k says:

    No, I only had a C64. Katakis and Into Oblivion were my two major shmup options. The former taught me the concept of weak points on bosses the hard way, with the latter I never even got to the first boss.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Again:

    – Music was done by Tim “Bomb the Bass” Simenon. Based on the John Carpenter theme for “Assault on Precinct 13”. You can find it in Spotify and all the Amiga cenobytes will tell you that the Amiga one sounds better. Hell, for them even Mozart sounds better in a 4 track mod.

    – Collision detection in this game is CRAP. If you don’t want to play it look in a youtube. I mean, that’s unbelievable.

    – Power ups were way cool.

    – The best way to play the game is just cheating. Which kind of validates the “please let me play without difficulty” theme, and this is getting too rollercoasty for me now.

  12. MrAgmoore says:

    I would have been 14 years old when the game came out. I played it on a PC ( my friend’s dad was a computer programmer ). I liked the music and everything with digitized speech was exciting back then. The shop mechanic was unusual.

    I thought that the raw shmup experience was basic, dated and inferior to previous shmups ( something like Lightforce on the C64 (released 1986) was vastly superior ).

    I really disliked dead-ending on the architecture and having to slowly fly backwards. My takeaway was that the game was overhyped. At that age, I had played arcade quality shoot-em-ups like Tiger Heli (released 1985) and Twin Cobra (released 1987). Only a year later, Thunderforce 3 would come out on the Sega Genesis.

    If you were 11, too young to have played in the arcades and missed out on the 8 bit microcomputer era, I can totally see why / how this game would have impacted on you. The Atari ST / Amiga versions would have been higher quality than a PC back then.

    • ansionnach says:

      I played the PC version. I think it was PC speaker only and there wasn’t any digitised speech. The main theme song certainly didn’t have any voices. Are you talking about the Amiga version?

      The PC version was in VGA, so may have been more colourful (if it used the extra colours). It didn’t have parallex scrolling (black background). The Amiga version of a game wasn’t always clearly better. Amiga almost anyways had better music and sound until PC games went fully digital. Before then, the PC version would often be in 256 colour VGA, so would be more colourful.

  13. cpy says:

    Well I still wonder what was the name of the game that look liked silkworm but was in sort of WW2 environment where you shoot war trains and you were a plane i think?

    • LeiHarper says:

      I can think of a couple of World War shoot em ups on the Amiga.

      The main side scroller that comes to mind was Wings of Fury, where you flew a carrier based plane with machine guns and bombs destroying Japanese forces in the Pacific theater.

      The other was Wings, which had a mixture of 3D filled polygon dogfight missions, along with 2d scrolling strafing and bombing runs. That was a WW1 game though, but in the strafing and bombing missions you did take on trains sometimes.

    • Beefenstein says:

      I suspect you could mean the apparently amazing A1200 game Banshee: link to youtube.com

      Amiga Power said it was awesome. I never played it.

    • Morat Gurgeh says:

      1942 possibly?

  14. TreeFrog says:

    I miss non-bullet-hell shmups. Looking forward to the day Steam allows Boolean NOT filtering on tags.

  15. tomimt says:

    I played the heck out of Xenon 2. It was one of the few shooters of its kind that I actually liked, another one being Raptor. Good stuff. And the theme music was/is awesome.

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      Risingson says:

      I always wondered about that. Being a shoot em up fan, the ones that I actually found the best in PC were Tyrian, Tubular Worlds and most of Project X. The rest have always seem very poor to me, and Raptor has the ability of being very boring with elements that never should be boring.

      Well, I also loved mutant space bats of doom, ok.

      • ansionnach says:

        Tubular worlds and space bats were indeed excellent. While I enjoyed Xenon 2, I did find it and Raptor very slow and unwieldy. They certainly don’t compare well with the fluency of the other two. I never understood the appeal of Raptor. Way too slow and dull.

  16. Fulby says:

    This was the first game I bought (or had bought for me, given my age) for my Atari ST and I played the heck out of it. I had read and reread the review of it in ST Format and couldn’t wait. I was also likely too young to notice the problems with it. Then once I got it I needed to also have bought for me a joystick with an autofire. Good times.

  17. Konservenknilch says:

    Loved it. Shoot-em-ups weren’t exactly common on the PC, and it was still some years until Raptor and Tyrian.

  18. criskywalker says:

    I agree. Most Amiga games aged horribly and I played most of them with cheat because they are basically impossible, but they remain as amazing memories. Every new game brought new ideas and graphics unlike any other graphics, except maybe on Arcades and you could even play those games on the Amiga! Such an amazing machine.

    I loved the concept of the Amiga and how innovative its games were and those games determined the games I loved nowadays. For example, every time I play Rocket League I am reminded of Speedball 2. So in that sense, Sine Mora would be Xenon 2? And Cuphead is Turrican!

  19. MikoSquiz says:

    Didn’t someone recently release, on Steam, a straight HD remake of this under a different title that makes it seem like they’re trying to hide that it’s not an original game? Did I dream it?

  20. Landrassa says:

    Oh my, have I played this indeed. We had this on our 286, and it was the only game that made use of all of the whopping 256 kilobytes the EGA card came equipped with. 16 glorious colors at the same time, what luxury.

    Unfortunately we didn’t have a sound card, so I never quite got to experience the full package. Hmm, maybe I should give it another run one of these days.

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      Risingson says:

      Don’t worry about the sound. They ported to DOS version but only supporting pc speaker.

      (My bet: they tried to have a mod player and it was not fast enough for 286 machines)

  21. King in Winter says:

    Oh yeah, Xenon 2. It was… a blast.

  22. racccoon says:

    The amiga achieved massive advancements in tech! MACHINE CODE is one of the fastest codes in the world!!
    Even today the amiga is a great machine & Xenon along with all amiga games rock! & will do, till one day we can no longer play them! :)

  23. fish99 says:

    I remember it for the music and graphics, but it wasn’t a game I had much fun playing due to the difficulty and a general lack of interest in the genre. I think something like Armalyte or Delta on the C64 were superior games.

  24. ChrisT1981 says:

    Xenon 2 and Battle Squadron, both on the Amiga.

    Awesome times.

  25. Morat Gurgeh says:

    Super Nashwan is actually one of my nom de geurre.

    I’m off to play Megablast. Swiftly followed by Liquid Metal and Bug Powder Dust which I recommend if you enjoy Bomb the Bass.

    Top game, many fond memories and much time “wasted”

  26. The Bitcher III says:

    Instinct tells me the CD32 score was earned by a rip-off of a port with no extra content.

  27. Artificial says:

    Used to play this with my dad from a floppy disk on an old PC. I’d hammer the space bar as much as possible while he did the movement. We only ever really made it to the 2nd or 3rd level. Still had a blast though.

    Would love it if they released a new version with achievements and stuff.