#45: Zaxxon 3D (1988 Sega)


Back in the fall of 1987 we saw the release of Missile Defense 3D which introduced the world to the SegaScope 3D glasses. Now several months later we finally have this second entry for the specs that sees Sega dip deep into their arcade past. Longtime Sega gamers may remember a coin-op favorite from 1982 called Zaxxon, a space shooter that has you blasting your way through a fortress while using an isomectric perspective. Five years later Sega somehow figured this would make a good subject for their 3D series and churned out this cartridge. While Missile Defense 3D was a nice first 3D cartridge, this game doesn’t quite prove to be a worthy second act.

Before I go on, I should mention is there is a secret options screen you can access by pressing START on the title screen that lets you choose between 3D mode or a standard 2D mode, meaning the glasses are actually optional for this cartridge. I guess Sega didn’t want to leave out anyone who didn’t have access to the specs or something. Obviously the screenshots in this review will be taken in 2D mode so you’ll just have to try to imagine them in 3D.

It's 3D, where the ships come to you!

It’s 3D, where the ships come to you!

Storywise it’s the same as just about every outer space shooter. This time it’s the Vargan Empire’s turn to threaten Earth, and you once again answer the call to arms with the Zaxxon war ship as your vehicle of choice. The game consists of 9 stages, each containing three parts that use a third-person behind-your-ship view. The first section of each stage just has you in open space shooting down the war fighters that zoom your way. Blasting certain targets will cause power-up capsules to appear which you can snag to increase your ship speed or gain more powerful weapons. Then you enter the fortress which mimics the original arcade game as you fly down the trench facing a gauntlet of gun turrets, tanks and missile silos. You also have to beware of impenetrable walls and electrical barriers that get in your way and force you to fly through the gaps in order to pass. In addition you have to keep an eye on your fuel meter which steadily ticks down as you progress through the level, and increasing your speed too much or using the more powerful guns excessively will deplete it quicker. Running out of fuel will spell your doom, but blasting the barrels found in the fortress will replenish it, and certain capsules will increase your fuel capacity. If you make it through the fortress you then cap off the level by engaging one of┬áthree types of motherships in one-on-one combat before moving on to the next level for more of the same.

Let's see how Luke Skywalker handles this trench run.

Let’s see how Luke Skywalker handles this trench run.

So the idea behind Zaxxon 3D seems sound, but the actual execution leaves quite a bit to be desired, kind of like the glasses themselves. The graphics are a mixed bag, especially in 2D mode; the first and third sections both have the same unimpressive look which makes it appear you’re just hovering in one place instead of actually going anywhere as the ships come to you, and the 3D mode doesn’t really add anything to it. The fortress sections do look nice and colorful and have a somewhat convincing 3D look when using the glasses. However each level looks pretty much exactly the same with very little variation, not even different colors or anything. Musicwise each section sports a different background tune which doesn’t get annoying and is actually pretty catchy in spots, but once again the sound effects are nothing to write home about.

You better hope you're in the right spot to fly through the gap, or else...

You better hope you’re in the right spot to fly through the gap, or else…

The gameplay also has more than a few issues, starting with how difficult it is to actually hit anything because the 3D perspective makes it tough to get your guns properly lined up with your target. Sega tries to help out by providing a crosshair that appears when you’re lined up but you often only see it for a second and it quickly disappears before you can get a shot off. The controls are simple to understand but feels sluggish as you move your ship around the screen. The other thing is the game seems too slow paced and even a little dull; the first part is horribly boring while most of the bosses in the end section can be beaten with very little effort, just dodge their shots while firing back and you can usually fell them in a couple of hits. Only the middle fortress sections seem to provide any real excitement and challenge, and even then it doesn’t last. Also should you make it past level 9 and beat all three motherships in a row, all you’re rewarded with is just a simple MISSION COMPLETE message, after which the game continues on indefinitely.

Is this ship even facing the right way?

Is this ship even facing the right way?

In conclusion Zaxxon 3D tries to provide something memorable for the SMS but doesn’t quite get there. The mediocre to boring action and the difficulty in actually blasting anything will not keep you interested for very long and it won’t make you want to actively seek the glasses out since the 3D gimmick isn’t really used to the fullest. It seems only the middle sections have any real effort to them, almost making you wonder why Sega didn’t just make the whole game around that idea and leave the snoozer end sections out, since it would have resulted in a slightly better (though not really great) cart. Overall another disappointment for the Master System.

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