Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Xevious on Atari 7800
Xevious - Atari for Atari 7800 - 9/10
The real joy of emulation is that you can go back and browse through videogaming rich history, much like thumbing through a library. When writing this week about Bandai's NES version of Xevious, I could only think of my fond memories for the Atari 7800 version. The trouble with nostalgia, of course, is that the memories overshadow the actual events themselves. Our resonance is what truly stays with us, and this is what makes subjective memories so damned inconsistent. It's the whole Rashomon effect.
Anyway, I figured I should have a proper Atari 7800 emulator on my computer, so I downloaded the latest version of MESS, a great emulator for a whole slate of classic computers and consoles. And with one notable omission, 7800 Xevious plays as well as the real thing.
Here's the one omission, and it's something that seems to plague all the current 7800 emus - the seperate buttons aren't mapped. The Atari 7800 uses two different buttons, just like the NES, and on Xevious this allows you to use seperate buttons for your laser guns and your bombs. Otherwise, you could just plug in one of your ancient Atari 2600 joysticks, where both weapons fire simultaneously. Unfortunately, that's what happens on the emulators. You're stuck firing cannons and dropping bombs at the same time.
For me, this is a minor frustration, because as I've written earlier, one of the keys to 7800 Xevious is finding all the secret bonuses hidden throughout the landscape. Some award extra points, some award extra ships. And you need to keep an eye on your cross-hairs to see if these hidden bunkers are detected. That's harder to do when fending off all those weird geometric spaceships from above.
It's even more frustrating when you realize how simple it would be to fix. This couldn't take more than a couple of minutes for one of the emu programmers to map out properly. Dagnabbit!
Anyway, this most likely isn't going to be a major issue for most of you, at least those who may feel tempted to fire up MESS and see what the Atari 7800 was all about. For me, I'd say Xevious is my favorite 7800 game. The console's only real good games were those early arcade titles from 1984, and Xevious is by far the best of them all. It's the one example of what the console could have been capable of, if left in more capable hands than the Tramiels and Atari Corp.
This Xevious is an exact copy of the arcade, although you'll quickly see (check the NES screenshot below for comparison) that the graphics are a little blockier, more tiled and squarish. I thought about this for a while, and I came to the conclusion that I actually preferred this look to Bandai's version. The NES version is just too clinical, too clean. There's no real character, despite its sharpness. All you're seeing is basic colors over geometric landscapes; there's no warmth. For once, the 7800's blocky style makes for a better game. This Xevious feels more lived in.
The only other home version of Xevious I'm aware of is the Atari 5200 version, which appeared on the Atari computers as an unreleased prototype. It's a pretty decent version, but the colors are drab and flat; very clearly a step below the 7800 version. I don't remember ever spending any time with that version, and it's probably just one of those childhood time-wasters. Why human beings choose to squander their most precious resource is beyond me. Maybe that's why we want to believe in the immortality of the soul; it frees us to continue procrastinating and wasting time.
Ahem. Excuse me. This is what happens after you've been sick for a week, and you're grandmother's in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. What was I writing about again?
Ah, yes, Xevious. My favorite game from the Atari 7800, a poor little console that was never given a fair shake. It's a touch faster and a touch harder than the arcade, which probably explains why fans enjoy it so much. This is the Xevious you turn to when you really want a workout. Good heavens, I still remember my hands cramping up from those terrible controllers. Atari couldn't build a good joystick worth a damn. Never could.
You can download the rom for Xevious, and most of the 7800 library, from Atari Age. If you look to your right, you'll see that I've added some emulation links. These are the rom sites I turn to whenever I need something quickly, and they've always been reliable. Feel free to load up your pirate ship with the booty. MESS can be found easily from Zophar or a simple Google search, like all the emulators. Aye!