My last post, a litany on the pleasures of being beaten (don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds) resulted in people approaching me and sharing the names of their own personal video game tormenters. Such was the outpouring of injustice and woe that I was tempted to set up a helpline to console the victims of digital brutality. I even considered a cautionary television commercial involving a schoolgirl getting reverse-pulverised by a Space Invader in a Ford Escort (“If I get hit on level 60, there’s a 20% chance I’ll live…”).

Ultimately though, such shock tactics are unnecessary. We know the names of our respective nemeses, the games that lurk in the dark and dusty corners of our collection, refusing to yield, grinning maniacally as they ping rubber bands at our Achilles heel. Some are content with reducing lone targets to tears of frustration. Others bring down entire generations with their sadistically unreasonable expectations.

We all bear the scars of battles fought and lost. But there are some adversaries who dig their claws in so deep that we feel the sting for years to come.


Xenon 2 is my dark mistress. As an Amiga acolyte I was privy to the 1989 release of what has got to be one of the toughest shooters ever to have graced the disk drive of Commodore’s beige behemoth. Created by The Bitmap Brothers, the luminaries responsible for indelible classics such as The Chaos Engine and Speedball, Xenon 2 not only managed to creep its way into my heart but also found the time to stab itself right under my fingernails.

It baited its trap with top-tier visuals and imaginative creature design. It lured you closer with slick animation and a blistering soundtrack (Bomb The Bass being my geek-chic ringtone of choice). It waited for you to lean forward, pick up your Zipstick, tentatively click ‘Player 1’ and sit patiently through the loading vacuum. Then its steel jaws slammed shut on your unsuspecting head and your torso was left twitching like an epileptic grasshopper snorting sherbet off a strobe light.

X2 Level 1 - 5

Xenon 2 was tough in the way old-skool vertical shooters were always tough: an endless barrage of bad-guys, enemy movement patterns that had to be observed and memorised if they were to be outwitted and bosses who expelled clouds of ammunition so dense that dodging them was like trying to avoid pale, gooey-eyed teenage girls at a Twilight screening. It had a few unique features; you could actually reverse the scroll of the screen if you pulled back for long enough, something that came in handy when confronted with one of the game’s numerous dead-ends. There was also a shop that you would visit mid-way through each level. This was staffed by a notorious orange alien who, in-between listening to his Walkman and burbling incomprehensible pan-galactic gibberish, would allow you to purchase power-ups and other goodies to kit out your ship.

Sadly, there existed no upgrade powerful enough to brace my hull against the inevitable. At the end of level four out of five there lurked a large purple gecko with plasma in his eyes and malice in his tongue. A couple of stern looks and few good licks and I was done for. Every noble effort crushed, every brave attempt thwarted by that big, lizardy bastard. Curse you Space Gecko. Curse you and your boss-eyed prowess.

So it was and always has been. The only reason I have any idea what the final level of Xenon 2 looks like is thanks to a couple of youtubers with a capture card and a cheat code. I can still hear her calling to me though. When Ikaruga appeared on the XBLA I immediately thought of my old mistress: the scrolling, the shooting, the big bosses and the insane difficulty. They feel like sister games to me, separated by time but shoulder to shoulder in both ethos and essence.

It may be all about massive mechs and polarity shifts in the Ikaruga camp, but I know the mark of the Gecko when I see it.







3 responses to “Megablasted”

  1. MarkuzR avatar

    Xenon 2 was absolutely stunning in it’s day, the music, the graphics, the fluifity of the sprites moving across the page. Bitmap Bros really knew how to make a game stand out though, with Speedball and Magic Pockets having those same “chunky 3D” graphics and originality.

    I never got as far as the final level, not even once. I do, however, remember that the shop keeper looked like The Predator with a haircut. I never did understand that game box art though… a psychadelic monkfish??

    Thanks for the memories… I’d almost forgotten about that game 😀

  2. Celeste avatar

    I wish I had the luxury of being able to choose a few oldskool games that I found unbearably difficult, but alas I was insanely rubbish at all of them. I remember Capcom’s Ghosts and Goblins presenting me with a particularly wretched experience though. Kinda fell at the first hurdle with that one – the early level with all the ice posed a real problem for me. I think it was ice. Could have been lava…

    I have some suppression issues with this game.

    You’re making me look bad, James – awesome blog, as always!

  3. Wonderdog avatar

    Super Nashwan Horsepower… Oh Yes.

    I played a lot of Xenon2 on the PC, with me steering the craft, and a friend hammering the spacebar to fire (for 40 minutes per playthough…).

    Oddly enough, he recently had surgery on his wrist for a repetitive strain-like injury, and we jokingly put it down to furious masterbation… but looking back I think I now know the real root cause!

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