This week we're going to look at a NES two-player game that's near and dear to my heart: many's the elementary school-era sleep-over where I stayed up late playing this game with my best friend. And the name? My best friend's name was "Alex".
Oh, and the name of the video game we were playing?
Oh neat, it's Sigourney Weaver-Knockoff vs. Ersatz-Giger's-Alien, right?
Well, no. The title screen is basically a big lie. While you CAN choose which character that you get to use,
- Despite the title screen, none of the characters is a tough space-babe. Yes, it's sad but true: in space, no one can hear you complain that "this is a sausage-fest."
- All three characters function identically; they just change your sprite's head
- In two-player mode, you BOTH have to use clones of THE SAME GUY (which makes the whole "pick your character" thing seem a little weird).
- In addition to the "Generic Bald WE ARE DEVO-Visor-Wearin' Officer" and "5-O'Clock Shadow Space Pirate Man," the third and final character is CONFUSED-LOOKING DUCK GUY:
Well, now that we're off to a poor start...what's this game about?
You get dropped off in a landing craft (which I like to call the laser coffin) with the precise mission of trying to "clear" the base before it self-destructs...
...this means you get to be mauled by alien monsters, aka "Xenos"...especially the fast, hard to kill and delightfully-named "Snotterpillars!"
...and once you've slain a Xeno, you can collect the random hardware it was carrying (like the ever-valuable FLOPPY DISKS) for big rewards!
Yes, evidently your whole mission is to show up, shoot some monsters, and gather all the floppy disks, stethoscopes and Erlenmeyer Flasks from the base before it self-destructs. Good to know you're risking your life for a noble cause!
And throughout all this, you're just looking for the Beam-Out Orb, which lets you leave the level.
Of course, if you DON'T find the Beam-Out Orb, you're usually rescued anyway by the default safety beam-out feature™. However you don't get any bonus points, and more importantly, no health bonus either!
Ok fine -- but where should you look for the Beam-Out Orb?
IT DOESN'T MATTER. After literally decades of playing this game, my conclusion is that "Once you've killed a bunch of enemies and/or a set amount of time has passed, the orb has a chance of appearing after each new enemy killed."
You could explore all over the base, going from room to room or (in later levels) going up or down the elevators to diffenet floors...and your chance to find it appears to be just about the same as if you stay in the first room and keep killing the re-spawning enemies.
So how can you enjoy such a pointless game -- where exploration is entirely optional, and "Snotterpillars", the most common enemies, are also the most punishingly difficult?
Because THE TEMPORARY GUN UPGRADES are FRIGGIN' AMAZING!
This is Xenophobe's paradox: the game itself isn't very fun, for a number of reasons:
- All but the rarest of enemies take too many hits to kill
- The controls take a lot of getting used to (hold DOWN and press JUMP to crouch; hold UP and press JUMP to stand up from a crouch or to stand up after you're knocked down by a charging snotterpillar. While crouching, press DOWN and JUMP again to fling a rarely-acquired grenade)
- Exploring each level is optional because it has no real effect on the game,
- And on top of that, the levels and characters are virtually identical, aside from cosmetic changes!
However, the Gun Power-Ups are awesome.
So what that you only get to use them until the end of the level? (Evidently they're confiscated when you beam back to your control ship, because after your laser-coffin ride to the next base you're back to your usual dull, slow, underpowered handgun).
So what if they're really quite rare -- you'd be lucky to find one every two or three levels?
So what that you're just using the upgraded gun to play more Xenophobe, an admittedly not-very-good game?
Once you've picked up one of these treasured firearms, your performance is so greatly improved that it creates an unreasonable sense of elation --
Now that you've know the pain that is "normal gun", you feel a great weight lifted off your shoulders as you flex the new-found might that your trigger-finger unleashes:
Snotterpillars, ceiling-clinging grenade-spitting blue monsters, laser-drones beware!
THIS -- is my BOOMSTICK!
Well, anyway, let's look at the three deathrays available for the lucky Xeno-Hunter (who is hopefully not Dr. Kwack):
Holy shit, the Speed-Gun is a thing of beauty...just look how streamlined it is!
It's no more powerful than your regular gun, but it shoots 2-3 times as fast. If you have even a third of the screen between you and a snotterpillar, evasive maneuvers won't be necessary: just mow 'em down with your whithering rapid-fire speed-gun bullets!
For the rest of the level you can just kick back, relax, and let the Speed-Gun do the Xeno-slayin' for you!
In space, no one can hear you Chillax.
The Lightning Gun
It's grenade-like good looks and odd "sandwich"-style design bely its might, for the Lightning Gun is another swell option.
This is the "medium" gun power-up: it's significantly stronger than the regular and speed gun, and still reaches about half-way across the room.
The Fog Gun
The Fog Gun takes the trend established by the Lightning Gun to its logical extreme!
It has the range of only an inch or so in front of your intrepid Xeno-Hunter, but it has got more stopping power than Stop! In the Name of Love being played during Hammertime. Snotterpillars go down in TWO HITS.
Also it makes the coolest "Dull Thud" sound effect, and its projectile (fog?) looks like a purple grapefruit. The Fog Gun is truly a superweapon of the first order!
Oh, and in case you were wondering why Xenophobe only appears to use half the screen...
If you had a friend to man the "Player 2" controller (and I did, back in the day!), you find Xenophobe's other innovative feature:TWO PLAYER SPLIT-SCREEN PLAY!
Seriously, you beam in to most levels together, and you can certainly hang with your clone-buddy if you want...but you can also totally ditch him and go on your merry snotterpillar-impeded way!
No more "I can't scroll left, Dave, until you press your controller to the left...COME ON!!"
This was some heavy juju back in the day, and is certainly a contributing factor to Xenophobe's odd appeal!
Well, that's about it for this week!
Tune in next week for more video game tomfoolery...
Oh, and whatever you do, DON'T play a two-player game and discover a gun upgrade while you're both in the same room. The fight over who gets it could end friendships. (Sorry, Dave!)
— carlmarksguy, 2012-10-26