Sunday, January 28, 2018

Axelay (Super NES, 1992)

 This is one of my favorite 16-bit space-shooters. It's probably second only to Space Megaforce; oddly enough, it also came out at around the same time. It's weird that the Super NES, a system with a notable deficiency of space shooters, dropped its best two in the same calendar month. I suspect this cut into the sales of both games dramatically as they were forced to compete. Regardless, Axelay is pretty awesome, and today I'm going to show you why.

Konami used to be my favorite game company. Womp Womp.

We get a quick shot of the hero's nuclear family, complete with some damn creepy kids. We can assume that the Buff Marine is the hero of the game, but what if the woman is actually the hero? The game never tells us. Or maybe this is an Ender's Game situation and the boy is the pilot when he isn't busy fending off bullies with his superior intellect. What about the little girl? She looks pretty murderous.

 We see a massive shadow creeping over a city. Is that... could it be? Has Val Venis finally arrived in the WWF?

"LADIES.", it's far worse than that. It's a massive alien ship, and it brings death and destruction.

 This planet isn't Earth, by the way. It's some distant world, under attack from another distant world.

Of course, one ship survived the onslaught, and it's a super prototype ship. Aside from it not being Earth, this is the plot of every shooter ever. Hard to see who's inside the helmet, but I'm pretty sure it's the dude. He sets out to save the planet (and his creepy kids), and the game begins.

 This game is particularly cool because it lets you choose your weaponry; at the beginning there isn't much to choose from, though. You get three weapon slots, and each slot can be given one of of several weapons by the end. After each stage, a weapon is added to your repertoire. Unfortunately, by the time you have a real variety to choose from, the game is nearly over. I prefer the way Space Megaforce features eight different readily-available weapons that drop from foes right from the get-go and can be switched on the fly.

The first stage is probably the weakest. Unfortunate considering it's the one you play the most. The music and general stage layout aren't really up to par with the rest of the game, and as a result it doesn't start with a bang. Here we see the Straight Laser, one of the default weapons. It sends fireballs straight ahead; not particularly great. Luckily, you get the best weapon in the game for this slot after the second stage. Given the generic-ness of the Straight Laser, and given the fact that you're quickly ambushed by circles of enemies that require the Round Vulcan to beat, it's odd that the game starts you with the Straight Laser readied.

You have about ten seconds (if that) to hit R and switch to the Round Vulcan... or DIE. I expected this back in the day thanks to Nintendo Power, but I could see it being a cheap shot for new players. As for the Round Vulcan itself... now this weapon is awesome. It rapid-fires in nearly 360 degrees (two directions at a time), but not straight ahead. Best of all, you control the sweep. Possibly the most memorable weapon from this game. The individual shots are very weak, but it fires quickly.

Miniboss alert! Yeah, this game has them. In this case we have a fairly bland larger-than-normal ship, and it has the ability to cloak itself temporarily.

The big boss of the stage is a giant metal spider, and it's bad-ass! This is a fight that seems like it should be difficult given the size and ferocity of the boss, but it doesn't take much firepower to bring down.

 Stage 2 has a surprise: It's side-scrolling. Yep, this game alternates between vertical-scrolling and side-scrolling, which keeps things fresh.

We get a sweet view of Not-Earth out the window here. Beware the robo-metroids on the floor!

At the end of the stage, super-ominous music plays as our hero(ine?) flies into an eerily decimated section of the base. What's lurking in here?

 My God. A Xenomorph. THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!

Actually, this thing is more a hybrid of a Xenomorph and ED-209 from Robocop. It quickly stomps into me and obliterates me. Oops.

 BAD-ASS LASER. This fight is officially when the game won me over the first time I played it, and the rad-ness continues from here on out.

 Defeating that boss gets you the Needle Cracker, the best weapon in the game. It replaces the mostly-useless Straight Laser. I'm guessing someone out there knows how to own the game with the SL, but it just doesn't cut it for me.

 In addition to sounding like a Mega Man weapon, the Needle Cracker sends out a swarm of blue lasers that home in on enemies. Their dispersal pattern, which fires in three directions to the front, keeps the ship protected for the most part.

After a miniboss-lacking stage two, stage three gets one. This fight is problematic when emulating the game since it blinks out a lot and turns invisible at random. This doesn't happen with a regular cart. This miniboss is a bit of a pain because it tends to fly down to the lower parts of the screen and your ship lacks the agility to dodge it.

The boss is a very odd-looking UFO that sends out massive quantities of little projectiles. This fight significantly ramps up the difficulty of the game.

It has a second form, but this one is actually easier. Only thing to worry about here are the highly-telegraphed electric beams.

Stage four returns us to side-view. It has some rock formations that bear a striking resemblance to the Moai statues that constantly show up in Gradius. Since this game is also from Konami, I'm sure it's intentional.

This stage has my favorite BGM in this whole game. Sounds like something out of Metroid, and it really conveys the sense of being on an alien world.

Most of this level transpires in or around an underground lake. It's different from the rest of the game in that the enemies here are organic rather than machine.

Check that out, little Xenomorphs. They're adorable!

The boss... is pretty impressive. No idea what the hell this thing is supposed to be, but it has an insanely good battle theme.

This also sounds like it could be something out of an early Metroid.

The boss fires a lot of sweeping electric blasts at you, but luckily they only slow you down. This fight is intense, because you never quite know what is going to blast or crawl out of it next.

Stage five is a huge lake of molten lava. Why would the bad guys have a base here? Seems pretty hazardous. You're building a Dyson Swarm all wrong!

The fire dragons from Gradius make a brief appearance here.

Also: Giant Lava Worms. Luckily, these hazards are easy to dodge because they don't home in on you.

Reach the end, and you've got to battle the groping hands of The Terminator.

"I did not mean to have a child with ze maid!" says The Terminator while feeling about with his giant hands.

Here's the full weapon select. The second slot lacks a third weapon. The first has the Straight Laser, Needle Cracker, and Wind Laser. While that last one is sorta the "ultimate weapon" for the game and covers most of the screen, I think I'll stick with the Needle Cracker. The Wind Laser leaves the immediate front of the ship open to attack.

The two weapons in the second slot are the Round Vulcan and another weapon that attacks outward in a circular fashion. Both are good, but I prefer the RV. Odd that it didn't get a third slot ability. If only there had been one more level.

For missiles, there are the standard Macro Missiles that head straight ahead and are generally your best bet. The other two are downward-firing missiles, one a single powerful explosion and the other a rapid-fire cluster effect. Both are useless in the vertical stages.

So basically, aside from the Needle Cracker, you're best off sticking with the starting weapons for the whole game.

Stage six is the last one, and it looks like Gradius. It's a standard space flight where you contend with a horde of small drones and a few large ships that can be avoided easily enough.

The "miniboss" here is a smaller version of the Xeno-boss from earlier. It isn't really a miniboss, though, because it barely attacks and as far as I know it can't be destroyed. Just...weird.

Flying past it is the means to victory. It's always eerie when a spotlight shines on you in a game like this. Super Metroid does that early on.

It's hard to grasp the true form of the final boss in this game, because the battle is something like six forms long. First, we get this beam-launching mech.

Next, twin beam-cannons. You know, this sixth stage is easily my least favorite in the game. It's by far the most difficult, and it strikes me as the least inventive. This looks like every other shooter out there, while the first five stages all had unique character. I barely remember this stage compared to the others.

This potentially-difficult section has you avoiding two spinning rocks while blasting the two crystals on the wall. It's potentially difficult until you realize that the corners of the screen are safe.

Next up, the main eye. This thing launches all kinds of bizarre laser projectiles that aren't seen anywhere else in the game. Some home in on you, some squiggle about... it's borderline creepy.

Something organic materializes after a while and fires holographic clones of your ship at you. This keeps getting creepier and creepier.

Just when you think it's over, the boss has yet another form. Without its machine barrier, the boss flees through space while firing projectiles en masse as you give chase. Oh yeah, and there's a wall of explosions behind you that take up more and more of the screen as the fight goes on. This is probably the hardest part of the finale, and it's a heart-pounding experience.

Here we see our hero escaping from the massive explosion.

Wait a minute... his helmet is broken! My God! I hope he can get back to his home planet before it cracks any further.

::the ship is seen wobbling before it crashes into a nearby moon::

Just kidding.

A few closing notes:

Needle Cracker is, IMO, the best weapon since it keeps you covered, shoots forward, homes in, etc. Unfortunately, it's pretty weak, and in the last stage it has very little stopping power.

I forgot to mention in the post that, while major collisions are insta-death (for instance, running into a boss or large enemy), smaller collisions and enemy shots aren't. You can actually take four enemy shots before losing a life, and can lose three lives before having to start a stage over. 12 hits is a lot for a shooter. Each shot you take disables one of your weapons, so after three shots you're stuck with the awful default shot. I managed to hang in there a few times with that and finish off a boss, though.

What a great game. Yeah, Space Megaforce is better gameplay-wise, but it's close. Axelay is certainly the prettier of the two, and possibly the more interesting overall.

Other Shooters!
Gun Nac
Space Megaforce


  1. This game is professional. I hope the skills that went into making this and Space Megaforce haven't been lost to history.
    I imagined the Mom was the pilot when reading this mail.
    All these locations are plausible but also interesting. The hologram-shooting boss was interesting, and it'd make sense for an alien race to have creepy technology we don't understand like that...
    A miniboss that can't be destroyed but which you don't have to fight? Like Warmech?
    I really like the idea of a gun that fires everywhere but in front of you. That's unique.
    Great post.

  2. Yooo, great review! But you also forgot to mention, that the energyweapon from the underwaterboss forces you to switch your weapons, if you got hit :-)


  3. Man, there are companies that have gone out of business that are less disappointing than Konami.

    That massive alien ship is actually a miniature replica of the big Valbowski.

    Whoa, a giant metal spider in a game that came out before Wild Wild West.

    This game being both types of shooters is interesting, and I am loving the look of that Needle Cracker. (That's a combination of the Needle Cannon and the Freeze Cracker, incidentally, though this predates Mega Man 7)

    I like that you can take a few hits in this one. Great stuff.