I'm always amazed by the sheer number of video games that are out there. I'm always stumbling on some classic game that I never had the chance to play back in the day. This weekend, I had some friends over, and we spent some time playing games on my arcade cabinet. While scrolling through the list, one buddy was overjoyed to find Xenophobe, a game I was previously unfamiliar with. Later on, a different friend was similarly thrilled to find Xybots, one of his favorite games from many years ago. Today, we'll take a closer look at these twin X-titled classics, both of which hit arcades in 1987.
First up is Xenophobe, a three player game from Bally Midway. In 1987, the side scrolling brawler was in its infancy. Many of the staples of the genre weren't quite as ubiquitous as they would later become. One such hallmark, having all players on the same screen at all times, was absent in Xenophobe. Instead of keeping all the action on one screen, Xenophobe had a unique three way split view. Each player controlled one section of the screen, and had the freedom to move back and forth at will. It was perhaps not the most elegant of solutions, but certainly made Xenophobe stand out from the crowd.
The players took on the roles of various heroes, some human, and some alien, as they wandered throughout a large environments, like space stations and rocket ships. Players could choose from three different heroes, meaning nine playable characters were available. This was yet another aspect that set Xenophobe apart. A trigger style joystick, with two other context-sensitive action buttons, as well as a healthy amount of items, weapons, and power ups, kept the action interesting throughout.
The enemy aliens went by the name Xenos, rather unimaginatively. In appearance and in action, the Xenos were, charitably speaking, highly reminiscent of those in the Alien series films. The rip off of the popular franchise went even further with the inclusion of leathery eggs and crawly, life-sucking aliens that attached themselves to the heroes. But really, being inspired by science fiction films or books was pretty much what video games did at the time, and what Xenophobe lacked in originality was more than made up for by the innovative display area, control scheme, and unparalleled freedom to explore.
The second in the pair of X-titled games I discovered was Xybots. Like Xenophobe, this classic was released in 1987, and it too was far different than many other games from the time. Xybots was a very early 3D shooter, with a well-realized maze for two players to run around in. The lower half of the screen was split, showing the heroic space guys the players controlled as they shot dozens of robotic alien Xybots, bent on the destruction of humankind. Above, a detailed status window, as well as a handy dandy map, allowed players to navigate the maze as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The control scheme for Xybots was as unusual as its perspective. The joystick allowed for eight way movement, and the handle could be twisted left or right, similar to the one in Ikari Warriors. This twisting motion controlled the rotation of the maze. Two buttons allowed for standard fire and a zapper weapon. Using the joystick to maneuver through the bot-filled halls was a breeze. In between levels, money could be spent at a sort of galactic convenience store to purchase keys, energy, and other power ups.
I was quite shocked when I did the researchXybots' release date. The graphics are quite simply stunning. Moving from one square to another is not sluggish at all, a remarkable feat given the technology available at the time. Consider that this was a full five years beforeWolfenstein3Dand six before Doom. Granted, the graphics are inferior to those two later games, but still,Xybotslooks very good. The heroes are well animated, as are the enemy robots. There are many games with much more horsepower that followed that don't have nearly as much personality asXybotsdoes.
Playing classic video games is fun in any case, but the experience is always enhanced by memory. While I marveledat the innovative features and technical accomplishments of both Xenophobe and Xybotsfrom a historical perspective, my friends just enjoyedplaying the games that they remembered from their youth. When we play an old game we love, we are taken back, even if just for a moment, to a snapshot of our past. For a generation of gamers that grew up in arcades across the land, playing co-op classics like these is a powerful experience that calls to mind great times in our lives.