Xenon: Bitmap Brothers' (mega)blast from the past
Classic Amiga and ST scroll-play gaming
The Weapon Shops of Crispin
Xenon 2 on the Atari ST: a formidable boss in action
Still, both platforms shared Xenon 2’s glorious visuals, which had taken a large step forward and resembled even more of the arcade look every home gamer was after. The Bitmap’s distinctive line of gradient-shaded, realistic looking rocks and gleaming machinery were trademark touches shown off in full force here, alongside five layers of parallax scrolling. End of level bosses had that lavish, imposing size of the arcade screen that many home games found hard to replicate – huge alien frogs, reptiles and squids with laser-shooting googly eyes.
In terms of gameplay, some considered Xenon 2 to be a retrograde step, as it ditched its predecessor’s innovative dual vehicle approach for the more traditional solo flying machine. Yet what it lost there, it gained in more sophisticated power-ups, and a weapons shop that could be visited mid-way and at the end of each stage. Here, a nasty looking, headphone-wearing alien called Crispin trades your fiercely collected bubble-shaped credits for all manner of crazy and wild enhancements.
Xenon 2 Amiga style: pop by the shops for some treats with this pleasant chap
Often, tactical choices needed to be made when purchasing weapons, so as to defeat the upcoming waves of enemies. Levels also featured somewhat maze-like rock structures – sometimes leading your ship down a ‘dead end’ – so it was handy to be able to kick your spaceship into reverse gear and actually send the scrolling backwards for a change. More innovative game-design work, for sure.
The Bitmap Brothers will always be remembered dearly by the Amiga and ST faithful. The graphical and sonic accomplishments are clear, but what really cemented the company’s success was its understanding of how home computer games often required more detail, more complexity and nuances, than their arcade counterparts. Those interchangeable power-ups and little puzzling sections lead to great replay value that hooked gamers in for the long haul.
Dead end street: remember to sling it into reverse
Mike Montgomery of The Bitmap Brothers is still operating, and indeed owns the company’s entire intellectual property. You’ll find links to lots of his re-released and re-hashed Bitmap Brothers classics here.
There’s no sign of the Xenon games yet, though Xenon 2 did manage to sneak out onto Blackberry, of all places, in 2013. That version got some negative feedback for its on-screen controls, so perhaps there’s a bit of re-thinking to be done before we get the iOS and Android releases. Nevertheless, it’s surely only a matter of time before commuter trains are subjected to an early morning smartphone Megablast. Be warned, those pesky Xenites will return once again. ®
Developer The Bitmap Brothers, The Assembly Line
Publisher Melbourne House, Image Works
Platforms Arcade + most home platforms