Hey! I've just spotted something! You know the letters 'A-X-E-L-A-Y'? Well, look at your joypad a minute. (No, go on, fetch it.) As you can see, the letters on some of the buttons produce the word 'AXELAY'! Well, apart from the E, of course.
Even so, there's a terrific cheat-mode in there somewhere. If you possess the game Axelay, on the title screen, try pressing the buttons 'A-X-L-A-Y' in that order, and you will have access to a secret bonus level. Go on, try it - believe me - it'll work!
You're still here, aren't you? Can't blame you, it doesn't work! Eee hee hee! Oh ho ho!... (Oh, do get on with it - Impatient Reader).
Ahem. As I was saying... Axelay is a shoot 'em up, but it's a little bit special. Oh, it's still a traditional shoot 'em up, of course, but it is a little bit special. You see, not content with churning out either 'yer standard' horizontal or vertical shoot 'em up, Konami have given you 2 (two!) games rolled into one. This means that you get twice as much for your money then, doesn't it? Well, no, not quite. You see, you only get six levels - three horizontal, and three vertical - not quite the bargain it seemed at first.
The horizontal levels are just what you'd expect, with a couple of neat touches. (I can't think of any at the moment though - pure laziness I guess.)
The vertical levels are a touch different to the likes of Aleste, Xenon et al, and quite neat they are, too. It's a little tricky to explain exactly how they work on paper, so, er, buy the game and find out! No, that won't do. The best description I can give, is that the vertical levels scroll in a sort of 'waterfall'. They're not 3-D. Again, Mode-7 is up to its usual tricks. The effect, though, I have to admit, looks quite stunning.
The game involves six levels - each containing an impressive guardian at the end.
"This is your host - N. White, and I'm here
to show you through all of the game's levels. To use a cliché - have you fastened your seat-belt? Okay then, we're ready to rock..."
Area 1 - Cumuluses (Awful Alternative NW name: Rocks 'n' Stuff):
The first level is the vertical scrolling one. (It occurs to me that Konami - amongst other companies - wanted to start the game on a high point, for testing purposes at software stores etc..) Anyway, the start-off level features rocks, laser machines, bits 'n' bobs and other things. It looks impressive, sounds impressive, and, well, is impressive. It's a good start-off level to get you into the swing of things.
The boss, called 'Arachnatron' is a spider, er, thing. Y'know something - I'd like to have it as a pet (? - Reader). It's well animated, looks great and doesn't take long to kill. Still, it reckons it's hard enough, and shoots out a web which slows you down - similar to the 'Spiger' in Godzilla.
Level 'Cor blimey - that's jolly impressive'- factor: 8/10
Area 2: Tralieb Colony (Awful Alternative NW name: Sideways scrolly bit with nice boss):
The first sideways scrolling bit (and just after you'd got used to the vertical scrolling). A little manoeuvring is required to squeeze between the baddies, but nowhere near as much as in R-Type 2 thankfully. Avoid the scenery, avoid the slow-down (sorry, skip that one), and you should cruise through the level.
The boss is an ED-209-style walker called 'T-36 Towbar'. (Ah, the lushness of manuals...) Mode-7 malarkey is the order of the day, and it looks great. Show it to a MegaDrive and A600 owner, and watch them cringe!
Level 'Cor blimey, this is jolly impressive'-factor: 7/10
Area 3 - Urbanite (Awful Alternative NW name: Above the Cities):
Vertical-scrolling time again. 'Ere's a tip:
Use the needle-cracker to burst the barriers. Slightly samey, this level. There're some stunning graphics, mind, and the music's great. Well, I like it, anyway.
'Regenertoid' - the boss - is a secret eye-ball, which changes colour every now and again. It possesses some very nice wobbly effects when it changes from flying saucer to, erm, something else, but is quite easy with the right weapon - even on 'Hard'.
Level 'Cor blimey - this is jolly impressive'-factor: 9/10
Area 4 - The Cavern (Awful Alternative NW name: The soothing music level. These are getting worse, I know. Cheers):
'Wow!' is the first word that creeps up in your mind when you see this level. It's only a horizontal scrolling one, but the water effect (which - incidentally - is an occurrence in almost every shoot 'em up now), is really great and everything. The enemies are easy to dust on Easy, but crank the difficulty up, and there's frustration aplenty. (If it wasn't for the music, you'd have your foot through the TV, even as I write.)
'Aquadon' is the guardian to the fifth level. The music surrounding him is really rather pleasant and soothing, and gives the 'Aquadon' a character of his own. It can get frustrating now and again, but, to be honest, you'll be saying "Aaaar" more frequently than "Aaaarrgh!" Oh, and when he bites the dust, you can be rest assured that he - sniff - leaves in a fantastic way.
Level 'Cor blimey, this is jolly impressive'-factor: 9/10
Area 5: Lava Planet (Awful Alternative NW name: Cor, it's a bit hot here, innit?):
Fire monsters ahoy! This vertical scrolling level is fun, but frustrating (on Hard especially). This level is one of the most impressive, but suffers from flicker and slow-down. Still, we'll make allowances just this one time.
No we won't, actually. Flicker and slow-down irritate me more than I can say. No, I'm wrong; flicker is tremendous stuff - it adds to any game, and gives it a nice twist. Likewise with slow-down - it makes the game much more tense and fun to play. Of course it does.
Now, the boss - 'Wayler' - flickers like there's no tomorrow. It looks great actually, but the flicker spoils it more than I can mention. Flicker aside, the fire monster tries to grab you with its hands and arms, but frequently fails. It has good fire-capabilities, though, so you'd better watch it.
Level 'Cor blimey, this is jolly impressive'-factor: 9/10 (bar the flicker)
Area 6 - The Armada of Annihilation's Fortress (Awful Alternative NW name: The final bit, which is actually dead tricky on Hard):
The final bit, which is actually dead tricky on Hard, features a whole host of baddies. A vital tip: The Wind Laser may seem like a dire choice for a weapon, but I wouldn't have completed it on Hard without it - it's handier than you think - especially on the later section.
The boss... Well, actually, there're about three of 'em! The first causes a suction at the top and bottom of the screen - very hard on Hard, but a breeze on the earlier difficulty levels. The second boss - 'Veinion' - which, I'd say is the main one - has many devastating attack patterns. Upon defeating him, you'd be forgiven for thinking that was it; but, to coin another cliché, it's not over 'til it's over (Brian). Mind you, it's almost over, seeing as the final boss is incredibly easy - just avoid the bullets.
Level 'Cor blimey, this is jolly impressive'-factor: 7/10
Those are all the levels then, and as you can see, there aren't that many. Apart from the last level, the levels aren't that long either, so the only thing that keeps Axelay's lastability above the water is the difficulty. Easy and Medium shouldn't be too much of a problem (both supply heaps of credits), but Hard is a decent challenge. Having said that, I completed Hard within a week, AND without losing a credit. If you limit yourself to about one hour's playing every day, the game will probably last you about a month; so, pounds per hour, you're really not getting that much for your money.
At the start of each level, you're allowed to choose a total of three weapons, out of a
selection of between 3-8 (you can toggle between the 3 of them during the game). After selecting them, you are told that "Arms installation is complete - good luck!"
The weapons - if you would like some - include...
Fires a single line of orange. Better than nothing, but not better than everything.
A great no-frills weapon. Capsules are released either side of the ship, and releasing the button will turn the direction of the capsules through 360°.
Shoots streams of tiny lasers all over the place. The first choice for a weapon - it's smart.
Low power, and not much cop. You won't want to know what it does (well, alright then... it builds up, and - upon release - will emit piffy little blobs of nothing), because you won't be using it that much.
Shoots two straight missiles ahead of you. Well 'ard.
Drops bombs in a curve. Rock 'ard
Drops bombs straight to the ground. Cushion 'ard. (??? - Reader)
At first, this seems big and clumsy. Well... it isn't. After some practise with it, you won't want to use anything else on the last level. (Actually, come to think of it, it's only available on the last level.)
Weapons covered, levels covered, this is a sort of nightmare for a reviewer who still has 1½-odd pages to go. Now, what would
a reviewer do in a situation like this? I could, of course, resort to the "Have you heard the one about the...?" joke, but that's old-hat. The second solution is to gripe, moan, whine and just downright complain. Yes, that suits me...
Axelay, hem, hem... is not without its faults.
A slight problem is the slow-down/flicker problem. Actually, it's not too bad most of the time, but on something like the fire monster, it can just be plain annoying. Konami, do us a favour, plug yourself into the Super FX chip.
Not really a flaw, but bugs me nonetheless, is the way that while indestructible things only lose some of your energy (or weapons, in this case), things that you can actually shoot and kill lose a whole life. When you're doing really well, it can be frustrating crashing into an enemy (which completely kills you), just so you can avoid a bullet (which wouldn't have killed you outright).
The third (major) flaw is the game's lastability, or maybe I'm using the wrong term - you don't really feel as though you're getting much game for your money. I could be downright cynical and say that on average, you're paying in the region of £8 per level - which isn't great value for money; but I won't. Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry. A similar problem can be levied at other Konami games - stuff like Pop 'n' Twin Bee.
Apart from all that, I'd say there is very little to fault with Axelay.
The graphics are *Insert a thesaurus of superlatives here*. Honestly, they really are something special. Most levels are amazing. The rest aren't though - they're even better!