Posted Tue Oct 2, 2001 10:13 AM
Here's another one of my 5200 prototype reviews, take it for what it's worth.
Xari Arena (5200 Prototype)
Xari Arena is one of those games you look at and say, "What the hell is going on here?" From the moment you turn it on your greeted by some of the coolest looking graphics the 5200 ever saw. Xari is at its core is Breakout in reverse, but there's much more to it than meets the eye. Your goal is to destroy all the Xari's that come out of the well in center of the screen before they destroy all your blocks? Sound easy? Well it's not.
Your player resembles a hollow paddle (like a capsule) that you can move around your side of the screen. Your paddle can catch and hold up to three fireballs (the little Glaive looking things that the Xari's shoot), and each stored fireball allows you to destroy one Xari by running into it. If you hit a Xari without any stored fireballs your paddle is temporarily stunned and you cannot catch or deflect any shots for a few seconds. If you already have three fireballs stored your paddle will start reflecting the fireballs back at the Xari's (a great tactic for those hard to reach guys that won't come near you) and at your partner/opponent which can be good or bad depending on what option your playing. You can choose to reflect shots even if you don't have three fireballs stored up by pressing the bottom controller button.
If things start to get out of control you can activate your fire extinguisher (using the top controller button) to temporarily protect your blocks. The fire extinguisher coats your blocks with foam and will destroy any shots that touch it, the foam moves quickly down your blocks and only lasts for a few seconds so you have to use it wisely (like when fireballs get behind your blocks). You get one new fire extinguisher each level, which can be store for later use (trust me, you'll need them).
Every couple of rounds you are rewarded by the Xari's with a cute little choreographed dance complete with music. During these dances the Xari's form patterns that increase in complexity with each level. I'm amazed at how many moving objects they were able to get moving on the screen at the high levels. After they complete their dance all the Xari's blow up and it's off to the next set of levels. After you complete all 32 levels your rewarded with a secret message telling you to contact Atari and tell them about your achievement. I doubt many people would have found this message since the game gets very hard in the later levels.
There are a number of interesting play options that add to fun and keep the game interesting (as if it ever gets boring). You can play alone, with a friend, or with a computer partner (if you have no friends). You also have the option of playing with or against your partner, which can lead to some very heated games. The computer's AI isn't bad, but it only uses the fire extinguisher when there are fireballs behind his wall (causing massive damage). There have been cases where the computer could have saved itself but chose to save the extinguishers "just in case". Still while the computer isn't perfect it still usually manages to hang in there until around level 17 or so.
Xari Arena's graphics are top notch; everything is drawn with a fine resolution and there is ample use of glowing effects that make things really stand out. One thing I noticed right away is the cool font that is used through out the game, it's one of those little touches that doesn't go unnoticed. Another of Xari Arena's little touches is that the Xari's actually score points for each of your blocks they destroy. How many games do you know where the computer can score points like the player? The sound gets the job done, mostly consisting of deflection beeps like you would hear in Breakout and explosion sounds, but the best thing about Xari Arena is the in-game music! There is a continuous tune that plays in the background of each board that simply rocks. I was surprised at how much I noticed the lack of background music in many other 5200 games after playing Xari Arena. It really makes the whole playing experience much more enjoyable.
If more original games like this had been released earlier in its life cycle maybe the 5200 would have been the runaway success that Atari hoped, but games like Xari Arena came too late to help save the 5200 and ultimately went unreleased due to the crash. Had Xari Arena been released I'm sure it would have been a top seller with it's mix of sharp visuals, beautiful music, and innovative yet easy to learn gameplay. Why couldn't other 5200 games push the system's limits like this?
Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10