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Xenophobe 7800 (Atari)

DoctorSpuds

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Alright we’re back with the 7800 and with a game that I’ve already reviewed the 2600 version of. Xenophobe was an arcade success back in 1987, with a classic premise and a cool gimmick it was sure to guzzle quarters like nobody’s business. Because of its popularity Xenophobe found its way into being ported on many home consoles and computers of the time even if there was absolutely no way they could run it, hell, even the ZX Spectrum got a port of it. But I’m focusing on the 7800 port and one thing that immediately strikes me is the sharp difference in box art. The 2600 version had a cartoonish but still highly detailed lawsuit bomb, while the 7800 box has two poorly drawn people fighting an even more poorly drawn green blob with mismatched eyes and a big goofy grin. The 7800 art does not inspire confidence as the more you look at it the worse it gets. From a perspective standpoint, there is none, the door the lady is throwing a grenade through is massive, while the woman seems to be sunk through the floor. She’s also pointing her gun at the burly dude who, despite trying to look stoic has clearly shat his pants with fear. Both the aliens look absolutely childish in comparison to the humans which were at least clearly discernible as being such and had a distinct style, the aliens look like they were contracted to a third grader. Also that skull is way too big, as despite it being at least several feet from the people it still manages to be larger than either of their heads. Okay so if the box art manages to be this disappointing I’m afraid for what I’m going to find when I actually play this game, let’s just get it over with.

 

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Well, okay then, this isn’t too bad. Starting off with you’ll see a 7800 recreation of the arcade marquee, complete with attractive woman holding big gun and debaucherous alien. Then the game starts, you get through the cutscene and… You are the most disgruntled looking bald dude off the face of the earth. The graphics are fairly detailed by 7800 standards but the color pallet is very subdued bordering on bland. The opening cutscene with the spaceship is completely monochrome while the insides of the space station aren’t much better. The walls are grey, the things up against the walls are also grey, there are some nice splashes of color though, usually purples and blues, and with the floor being orange it keeps things from getting too lousy. Overall, it’s fairly ‘meh’ there’s nothing overtly terrible but there’s nothing to really draw you in and give you the ‘wow’ factor that you desperately need in a game as repetitive as this.

 

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The sounds are virtually the same as the 2600 version, though my opinions on them have softened somewhat. The music is still absolutely dreadful, I don’t know how they thought that was even remotely okay. Most of the sounds are well placed beeps and chirps but there are a few that stand out, mainly the shooting sounds for all guns above the standard phaser pistol, and the roar of the large alien as it charges at you,  those are some legitimately unique sounds I’ve never heard from either the 2600 or 7800 before. Apart from the music the sounds are inoffensive and work well with the game, how’s the gameplay then?

 

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 Well… it’s Xenophobe, that’s for sure. Your sole purpose in Xenophobe is to kill everything that moves and a few things that don’t. You move room to room shooting a small variety of enemies over and over until you die. The game plays very similarly to the 2600 version but there are a few additions and improvements, and yes I do know that the 2600 version was likely based on the 7800 version but since I reviewed the 2600 version first I’m going to compare this to that. You can now jump into doors, oh yeah, and it takes away more health than some of the smaller enemies, this is an improvement since the 2600 version didn’t actually have doors. Shooting has been fixed; you can now fire rapidly from any place in the screen. The 2600 version metered out its shooting speed based on how close you were to the side of the screen, the closer the faster, now you can mash away and kill the larger enemies with ease. Weapon damage has also been tweaked, instead of only doing 10 units of damage like in the 2600 version, now grenades do 100 units of damage making them actually useful. Throwing grenades has been relegated to the second action button so there’s no need to crouch hold forward and shoot to throw a grenade like in the 2600 version and the arc is far longer so you don’t have to be standing next to an enemy to hit them. A few quality of life improvements include being able to crouch and walk and shoot all at the same time, and now having the ability to shoot while being knocked down. Instead of there being two outcomes for each station you visit, failure and success, there is now a third option, successful failure. You’d either lose the station to the aliens or you’d kill them all, now you can self destruct the station if you find the proper item and find the destruct console, doing this gives you fewer points and no health bonus, but let’s face it some of the later stations are four to five levels of Satan spawn and you won’t survive that. Oh yeah, and what was the most important thing the 7800 version has that the 2600 version doesn’t despite it being advertised on the back of the box? Oh, that’s right, simultaneous split-screen multiplayer! There’s a reason the screenshots of the 2600 version didn’t show any split screen because if they did that would be false advertising.

 

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All in all the game is a marked improvement over the 2600 version, which is no surprise. It’s a firmly ‘alright’ game, you might pop it in every once in a while but it’s not something you’ll spend a whole afternoon playing. What isn’t alright however are the prices, for such a common game the prices are ludicrous. The cheapest copy currently on Ebay is a loose cart for 28 dollars, the cheapest boxed copy is a PAL copy for 36 dollars. I got my copy for 40 dollars CIB which, looking at the rest of them, seems like a pretty good deal. If the prices were half of what they are now then maybe I’d recommend this one, but considering I’ve seen 7800 consoles sell for less I’d say this one goes to the Collector’s Zone, an alright game overshadowed by its price tag.

 

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