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|[ Writer ] = BAD
|[ 11/21/03 ] = Axelay
Back in the days of 16-bit gaming, Konami released a great amount of shooters. The developer released a generous amount of titles in the genre during the era of 16-bit shooting splendor (Salamander, Gokujou Parodius, Twinbee, Thunder Cross II), but of the many titles there are some that stand out a bit more than others (Gradius II, Gradius III, Xexex). Also among Gradius III, Gradius II, and Xexex on the list of the most memorable Konami shooters is Axelay. A fusion of sorts, Axelay was one of the only titles of its kind back then (among Salamander and Thunder Force II), and boasted a successful combination of both the vertical and horizontal gameplay types, great sound, and a shooting experience that is valued by fans of the genre still to this day. Konami built one hell of a shooting game when they made Axelay. Although a great deal of time has passed since Axelay's debut, the title stands out even today among many not only as being one of the best Konami games, but also as being one of the best games of the 16-bit era. When I look back at that era of shooters, Axelay vividly comes to mind. Proceed if you would like to know more about one of the best shooting games of all-time.
There is a mysterious enemy threatening the well-being of the solar system. The last of a tired and battered fleet, you pilot the ship Axelay - a remarkable craft of war, and ultimately one of the best ship designs ever seen in a shooting game. As if saving the world wasn't already hard enough, in Axelay you set out to save the solar system from extinction at the hands of a merciless enemy. In this game the solar system is counting on you to pilot the craft Axelay straight into the heart of the enemy through the blinding hail of relentless fire to restore peace. If you fail this mission, more than just your life will be lost, the entire solar system will be lost. The fate of the solar system is riding on the outcome of your decisive stand. You must find the strength within yourself to put down the threat at hand. You are the last hope.
To start, like Konami's own Salamander, Axelay is both a vertical and horizontal shooting game. Axelay features a combination of vertically and horizontally-scrolling stages with gameplay that can be best described as a fusion of the best elements from both the vertical technical shooter and horizontal shooter types. While Salamander and Thunder Force II were also shooters of the time that mixed both gameplay styles, Axelay in particular, stands out. With their similarities (and obvious differences), Salamander and Axelay are often compared, and while it's hard to say which I like more (they are both great titles), I can say that Axelay is a bit more forgiving than Salamander is; collision with environmental hazards and/or enemies isn't as strict, and at least when you get hit you don't lose all of your firepower. Likewise, Axelay features an innovative (and unique) life system in which weapons on the player's ship are disabled (permanently) when hit, and after each of the ship's three weapons are disabled, one hit takes a life. And like other Konami shooters (Gradius, Parodius), Axelay features the tried-and-true Shot and Missile button layout shooter fans have come to love, in addition to an Arm Change button that is conveniently used to cycle through the ship's arsenal. The Arm Change button makes cycling through your ship's weapons quick and easy, even during intense firefights (which requires pre-twitch skills). However, even though Axelay contains vertical shooting action, absent is the screen-clearing Bomb button that is often seen in shooters of the vertical breed. From start to finish, Axelay is a fun, enjoyable shooter experience. This blistering shooter can fulfill the bullet cravings of any player willing to immerse his/herself into it, veterans and beginners alike.
The player's beautifully-animated ship (Axelay) comes equipped with a variety of weaponry. Axelay is distinctly different from other Konami shooters, particularly in its unique and innovative weapon system, where weapons are chosen before the start of each stage, rather than by collecting power-ups throughout the stages. The great thing about such a weapon system is that although you get only three weapons per stage and there are no power-ups, there are ultimately a plethora of different ways to annihilate the enemy. Axelay's gunnery consists of nine different weapons, which include (but are not limited to) a Straight Laser, Round Vulcan, Cluster Bomb, Needle Cracker, and Morning Star. It must be said that the weapons in Axelay kick ass; they look cool, and each of them have a set of attributes for specific use in various situations. For example, the Round Vulcan can be used to spray the floor and ceiling of a corridor from back to front simultaneously; a stylish method of destruction.
Aside from a good number of cool weapons, there is also a large number of cool enemies and creative mid-bosses (who can almost be considered as bosses themselves) in Axelay. Each stage has its own theme and respective set of diverse opposition to match; from machine enemies like turrets and alien craft, to organic enemies like dragons and aliens, Axelay wins the gold in enemy design. The amount of intricate detail that was put into the enemies and mid-bosses of Axelay is just amazing, and rivals that of any title in the 16-bit era. The forces of opposition in Axelay animate well, as alien craft flip, twirl, hover, and soar across the screen, while dragons and aliens slither about (just to name a few). Among the coolest enemies in Axelay are ferocious gold dragons that slither and coil around your ship and explode into pieces when you destroy them; their explosive emergence from background structures almost left a mess in my trousers the first time I made it to them. Also, due to the factor of stage-exclusive enemies in Axelay, enemy repeats are a rare occurrence (which should please those who like enemy variation). Of course, no shooter is complete without heavy firepower on the side of the opposition, and the enemies in Axelay have various attacks; among them are the standard blinking Konami bullets, streaming lightning beams, spinning cluster shots, long missiles, laser beams, homing missiles, mines, homing spikes, and a lot more. With a quality cast of diverse enemies and mid-bosses, some of the most amazing bosses ever seen in any videogame round out Axelay's force of opposition.
Plainly put, the bosses in Axelay are amazing. Brilliantly shaded and intricately detailed, the bosses in Axelay are crafted in beautifully complex designs, and are truly breathtaking. Konami's development team really put their hearts into the development of Axelay, and it is apparent at the end of each stage in the game. Some of the biggest, screen-filling, meanest creations ever seen in a shooting title, the menacing bosses of Axelay are a force to be reckoned with; like the smaller enemies, bosses range from the mechanical (a mechanical spider, various alien craft) to the organic (various alien monstrosities, a behemoth lava giant). Absolutely beautiful in its conception is the monstrous dangling mechanical spider you see on the left. Hands-down, this monster is the coolest boss in Axelay; sprawled across almost the whole screen, it scampers about the clouds using trapping webs, guided plasma shots, and sheer size advantage during battle.
Next in line is the mechanical nightmare walker (seen on the right); equipped with a giant gatling gun, plenty of ammo, shoulder turrets, and a frontal beam, this boss cuts to the chase and walks directly toward you! Like the others, this boss is visually stunning, and is beautifully animated with every step it takes, as it litters the floor with spent artillery shells and floods the corridor with beam fire. The third over-the-top boss in Axelay is a lava giant. Born of fire, this towering boss emerges from the depths of a sea of lava at the beginning of the fight, and from there on things get tough. This one is just plain rotten; after taking a few (hopefully unsuccessful) swings at your ship, this giant spits fire, releases spread flame shots, and even blocks shots! The remainder of the bosses in the game consist of a cone-like alien craft that upgrades itself with armor, a cocoon-like alien that wields a paralysis beam and hatches enemies, and a screen-filling, nasty-looking bio-mechanical alien for the decisive battle to save the solar system.
As for stages, each and every one of the six stages in Axelay is a visual treat, featuring vivid color, nice textures, and intricate detail. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Axelay is its beautiful vertically-scrolling stages; in each, a distant horizon can be seen, and the background scrolls toward the player and under the ship, creating a somewhat realistic sensation of elevation (way up high, looking down). An ethereal glimmer of bright city lights, towering buildings, and streets along a coastline dotted with boats can be seen in one stage (seen left), while the view of another reveals soft clouds in slow drift over groups of lush, tropical islands. Still, in another stage, from boiling seas of lava solar flares animate beautifully as they jump over your ship (and still when directly into your ship). Also, the backgrounds of Axelay's vertical stages aren't just pretty, they're interactive; enemies shoot from buildings miles below (seen left) on land, emerge from craters, and hide behind towering cliffs. Similar to the jumping solar flares, the ground-to-air enemy shots look nice, littered across the screen as they lighten up the dark night sky. While not as impressive as the vertically-scrolling stages, Axelay's large horizontally-scrolling stages contain bits of impressive background layer movement, combined with the same amount of intricate detail and inspiration.
However, like its older brothers Salamander and Gradius (and older sister Parodius), both the vertical and horizontal stages in Axelay contain dangerous environmental hazards that can leave your awesome ship in sorry shape. From crumbling landmasses suspended high in the clouds, to giant pipe structures and jumping flames, danger lurks around every corner of Axelay's beautiful stages. While Axelay's horizontal stages contain elements from that of the common horizontal shooting formula, ultimately the presence of environmental hazards in the game's vertically-scrolling stages clearly show influence of technical shooter gameplay. If anything in Axelay will irritate you, it will most likely be the parts of the game that require successful evasion of large environmental hazards at high speed.
Perhaps one of the most-talked about aspects of Axelay are its high-quality special effects. The nice visual effects of Axelay bring the scenes of the chaotic war at hand to life, as enemies and bosses release a plethora of different shots and beams, smoke trails behind missiles dispatched from the player's ship, and nice explosions fill the screen. Also of noteworthy detail are sharp-looking boss deaths, and effects like splashing water as objects emerge or submerge, as well as dripping lava from the monstrous body of the lava giant boss. There are also some very nice warping and transparency effects as bosses and enemies disappear and reappear (like ghosts) before taking solid form (left).
While Axelay shines visually with killer graphics and effects, quality design and sound complete the package. From the intro to the fonts and ship blueprint weapon selection screen, Axelay's presentation is also very nice. As for audio, from the opening and first stage, to the end-boss and ending, Konami poured their hearts into the music of Axelay; every track conveys perfectly the desperate, monumental theme of the game. Sure, some may say that it's not "CD quality," but the music in Axelay just rocks (especially stage 1). Great sounds.
The sheer amount of enemy detail, vibrant color, good animation, and nice effects that grace the screen in Axelay are something that must be seen to be believed. Axelay is a great model for fusion shooting games of the future to emulate. Strangely though, Axelay is one of the only Konami shooters never to have been followed by a sequel (which is sad, considering how good of a game it is)! However, there have been titles throughout the history of the genre (Gradius III, AeroFighters, Space Megaforce, Lightening Force) that cannot be missed, and Axelay qualifies as one of them. In its entirety, Axelay is a damn near-perfect shooter, combining elements of the vertical and horizontal shooter types to create high-grade shooting.
|[ Extra ] = Features
|[ 1 ] = Axelay Boss Death Shots .01
|[ 2 ] = Konami