Early on, I knew I was going to have problems in life due to clumsiness and lack of awareness of my surroundings. My fiancé has since dubbed me “spatially challenged” – but this dates from well before we met. I was something of a clumsy child and I was always bad about gauging distances and accidentally running into things or knocking things about. My spatial problems haven’t gotten much better, (I have a perma-bruise on my left thigh because I can’t not hit the edge of my desk every time I walk around it) and they definitely affect me in games – from being a poor judge of distances between gaps to being confused by directionless landscapes (I will use “bread crumb trails” in a game any time they are given.) If one game really brought to the forefront my non-spatial tendencies, it was Zaxxon – though, in this case, the 1984 DOS version by Sega Enterprises.
Zaxxon “was an air shooter with an isometric perspective.” Or, in my crappy translation, the game was set on an 3D-like, angled landscape in which you could move your ship up, down, left, and right, blasting things and avoiding obstacles along the way. If there was a story behind Zaxxon, I wouldn’t have known. I was too busy dying to pay attention. Yet I continually played because the point of games was to beat them, right? So I was going to beat the damn thing come hell or high water.
Only I didn’t, of course, because I simply could not successfully maneuver the ship. No matter how many times I booted up the game with an air of complete confidence, it was all shattered within moments of starting. The minimal color scheme didn’t help much with contrast, but worse was that I just didn’t comprehend well enough the space the ship was in.
Here’s the game in motion – and oh, does this bring back the memories…
Now, I know you’re going to look at the video and think, “You wuss, look at how slow that game is going! How in the world could you not have beaten that?!” because that’s exactly what I’m thinking. How the hell did this game defeat me?! Well, I’ve already explained the spatial problems and at that time, as young kid, I didn’t have the quickest reflexes or reactions. Basically the same problems I had with Xevious and Robotron 2084. Plus, besides beating the game, I wanted to get the highest score possible, so this led me to want to blast everything in sight, some how, some way, which led to clumsy play.
From the video and images, you’ll see an “H-L” meter on the left side, which shows how high or low your ship is in the air. That was all well and good, but it was really hard to tell how high or low the ship was in proximity to all the obstacles and enemies, except when the ship was all the way to ground. Any explosion that happened near my ship threw me off because I had no idea how close or far away from it I was. Blasting everything in site was not impossible, but those “electric” walls. Holly fucking hell. It didn’t matter if it was so terribly obvious to everyone in the whole goddamn world where the ship needed to be to get past those things because I couldn’t react fast enough to get past them. 99% of the time those things cause my death, not the bazillion other things shooting at me.
And things got even worse in space – the sections in black space between the “land” levels. There you faced groups of ships that got progressively smaller with each hit until they disappeared. And the teeny ships continued to shoot at you of course. And the whole group seizured at once, which made me even more nervous. Really, I just hoped to make it through to the next “land” level each time because at least the game felt grounded – no pun intended, but ha ha.
I managed to make my way through the same few levels of Zaxxon every time I played, but I didn’t get far. The further you got into the game, the quicker each level got. And like most games of this kind, if you couldn’t keep up with the level you were “crushed” on the left hand side of the screen. That was by far the worst way to die. It felt much more shameful than just misjudging the gap in an electric fence.
Games like Zaxxon or flight simulators of any kind…yeah, I pretty much avoided and continue to avoid them. There’s good reason why I’m not a pilot, or a ship’s navigator, or in charge of any sort of guided missile attacks. We all have Zaxxon to thank for that.