There's nothing more satisfying for a retro gamer than discovering an underrated gem. You may not have heard of Axelay, but its perfect combination of tight shoot 'em up gameplay, exemplary presentation, fresh level design, and thrilling boss battles will have you hooked from start to finish. Now that it's available for multiple consoles, being able to experience this old school alien invasion is easier than ever.
It looks like those dastardly aliens are at it again. Their Armada of Annihilation is taking over planets all across the galaxy and it's your job to put an end to the carnage. To do so, you control a ship named Axelay by moving it around and shooting. It's been done countless times before but rarely as fine-tuned as this. Before starting a stage, you select which weapons you would like to occupy three slots. You can then cycle through these weapon slots on the fly during gameplay. You'll unlock more as the campaign progresses, so it's fun to experiment and find your favourites. Two buttons are used to attack; one fires missiles and the other is your standard shot. As you fly around the stages firing at enemies while cycling through your arsenal to handle different situations, you'll quickly realise how intuitive and tight the controls are since you won't even think after a while, you'll just react.
Axelay's graphics are surprisingly detailed for an early Super Nintendo game. Your ship yaws left and right as it moves and your enemies are animated in a way that makes them seem even more sinister. Stages alternate between vertically and horizontally scrolling which keeps the gameplay exciting throughout the entire journey. The vertical stages utilize mode 7 effects for their backgrounds and they actually look quite impressive even for today's standards. However, a few enemies are also rendered in mode 7 which becomes problematic since they blend in to the background too much thus making them difficult to distinguish. Thankfully, there aren't many of these enemies. The featured music is mostly classic synthetic orchestral pieces that the SNES was famous for and it adds a cinematic quality to the audio. Shooting effects are understated as to not become obtrusive while enemies explode with bursts similar to those later heard in Mega Man X. It all adds up to one great looking and sounding alien-slaughtering shooter.
An impressive feature of Axelay is the level design. You'll face many challenging scenarios, but nothing is insurmountable. Some situations that you'll find yourself in include navigating mazes made of steel pipes, having to fire backwards in order to take out hard-to-reach turrets, and plenty of epic boss battles. Along your journey you'll battle a giant spider, a massive lava demon, a shape-shifting orb, and even a large floating crustacean. Each one is unique and challenging enough to be instantly rewarding as soon as you defeat it. The only issue with the level design is when doors close in front of you thereby trapping you behind them. As you move your ship around and shoot frantically, you'll eventually accept your fate and lose a life. This is disheartening at times because it may be tricky to notice that a door is closing when you're busy shooting aliens. Situations like this make being aware of your surroundings a valuable skill.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Axelay is the fact that there is only one mode in the form of a six stage single player campaign. No multiplayer exists whatsoever. Also, there's very little reason to play through more than once unless you want to simply experience the game again or get a higher score. You do have the option of three difficulties, so you can play through on a higher setting in order to challenge yourself if you're inclined to do such things. Don't get me wrong, this adventure is definitely worth taking, but you may not go on it again after you've completed it once.
Axelay is a solid shoot 'em up from the first to the last frame. Fans of scrolling shooters or retro games in general will be blown away by its responsive controls, intense action, and spot-on design. So, grab your helmet and jump into Axelay's cockpit to suppress yet another alien invasion that you won't soon forget.
- + Tight controls, detailed graphics, and great audio make for one satisfying shooter
- + Stages alternate from vertical to horizontal
- + Fantastic level design and boss fights
- - Enemies rendered in mode 7 can be awkward
- - Doors that close ahead of you are annoying
- - Only has one mode which is a single player campaign with six stages