I distinctly remember playing Zaxxon in the arcades, although I’m now a bit shocked to discover it was 1982. What I remember most about Zaxxon isn't so much its amazing graphics, but rather a vague sense of bewilderment as I tried to wrap my head around its pseudo 3D controls.

This was the first game to introduce isometric graphics, which is how we used to have 3D games before the third dimension was discovered. Zaxxon’s visuals perhaps weren’t so much amazing, actually, as they were clever. Impressively clever, mind you. Whoever figured out a method of fooling our senses so simply was definitely underpaid, no matter what sort of wage they were on.

Now we don’t need anything too clever to give us a 3D-looking game; just a bucket full of polygons, an iPhone and thirty years of game development to deliver Zaxxon Escape [$0.99].

The isometric flight through an outer space obstacle courses is now a fully-3D run through endless tubes, which raises the first and most prominent question about Zaxxon Escape, and I expect  it’s one that the developer Free Range Games knew the iPhone world would be asking: how exactly is this Zaxxon?

Love the game or loathe it, there’s no denying that it’s genuinely impossible to spot a family resemblance between Zaxxon and Zaxxon Escape. It’s only fair to also pose the question “does it matter?” and the answer really depends on whether you’re a retro purist, a fan of the original or a newcomer to this long-lived franchise. But it’s not unreasonable to expect something that carries the Zaxxon banner to cater, in some way, to those who played the classic coin-op, so it’s off to a bad start for all you (us) old people.

Perhaps the best way to approach Zaxxon Escape is as if it were a brand new game with no arcade legacy. You shouldn’t have to do that, but you’ll be less disappointed if you do.

Viewed from behind your fancy new 3D ship, the game shunts you down an endless tunnel filled with trip hazards, coins to collect and sharp turns to navigate. The ship itself uses tilt controls, rotating around the center as you automatically fly in a straight line through the tunnels.

Letterbox openings that you can only fit through when properly aligned are the most common barrier you’ll face, with similar hurdles popping up along your route. The accelerometer controls keep your ship parallel to the ground at all times, which means rotating the entire device around a 360 degree axis to navigate these obstructions.

It’s easy to see what the developer was trying to achieve here, and in some respects it works quite well. Accuracy of your ship’s rotation is easy to accomplish, since you’re effectively lining up the actual iPhone with the gap you’re hurtling toward. On the other hand, you’d better make damn sure you’re playing the game while sat on a bed, or with an array of bean bag safety nets strategically positioned around your feet, as a quick game of Zaxxon Escape is sure to liberate the iPhone from the tyranny of your gaming grasp.

This is doubly true as the game progresses. Your ship speeds up, making the rotations more of an emergency, and right angle bends must be traversed with a swipe across the screen in the direction you want to turn. Again, it’s a very simple mechanic, requiring a quick and dirty flick across the screen when prompted, after which the ship maneuvers automatically. Tapping the screen fires off a shot, which is used to remove full-screen blockages and allow you to continue on your endless run.

Simple controls, sure, but flicking the screen while the iPhone’s dangling upside down from two precarious fingers soon makes the whole thing look like a card trick gone wrong. Glad you set up the bean bags now, eh?

Coins are found floating around in these techno corridors, which are used to buy various upgrades for future games. These power-ups include a temporary auto-pilot (which essentially removes much of the game’s objective and turns it into a spectator sport), score multipliers, automatic coin collectors and so forth. These are the items you’re likely to be able to afford simply from playing Zaxxon Escape, but there are others you’re invited to desire that will probably demand an in-app purchase.

A second life, speed boost and even brand new ships are all on offer. For a price. Consider that about half an hour’s play rendered around 250 credits, yet the cheapest new ship will run up 50,000 credits, so even the most severe OCD sufferer is going to have to open their wallet a second time if they want a new ride. Chances are you simply won't bother.

And as most every forum poster has pointed out, the complete lack of the original version – either via IAP or as an included incentive – is almost unforgivable. What would it have taken to chuck the retro shooter in? A few kilobytes and quick and dirty emulation? Shame on you, Sega.

So Zaxxon Escape seems to have taken a bit of a kicking here, but it’s not that it’s a thoroughly bad game. In its own right it could have been a decent endless runner, as the visuals are sharp and the concept is sound. Yet it unequivocally fails to earn a place in the Zaxxon canon, and with only one game mode and a greedy in-app store, it struggles to demonstrate its value as a standalone title.

TouchArcade Rating

  • http://wondroushippo.com Carter Dotson

    I have no real connection to the original, so I actually enjoyed it a bit more because of that, it seems.

    The secret with the coins is to make your first item purchase the coin powerup that you shoot. After that, you start getting them in far more reasonable amounts.

  • Firetruck94

    Another 2.5 star review? #TouchArePaid

    • rybred96

      You people aren't happy with anything, are you?

    • 1Fcm

      2.5 stars is a paid review? Wouldn't it be higher if they were getting paid? Please tell me your being sarcastic because right now you make about as much sense as this Zaxxon remake.

  • ImJPaul

    I never played the original but this game was TERRIBLE. Bought it and then deleted it in the same day. Seems they won though. They did get my money after all.

  • menom

    Well they're not getting my money

    Complete waste of classic IP

    Not sure how hard it would have been to release an updated version in same style of the original but clearly it was too much for the modern day SEGA.


  • Dave Martin

    This game is closer to Temple Run than the original Zaxxon.  That said, I find it entertaining as a pick-up and play when I've got 2 minutes to kill (read: potty time) game.  It's worth the buck, even though it's somewhat repetitive.  If Sega did add the original arcade game, that would be a killer bonus.  

  • JCat_NY

    Looks like Atari's Centipede Origins has company in the use the name, but produce vomit department.

  • Blodia

    I'd rather see a redo of "Congo Bongo".

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CKBNMJGLGCBQOSH2BM264QIHLI Bridget

    Ah, Sega, being bloody useless AGAIN.  But then this is the same publisher who cant seem to understand WHY most of the recent Sonic titles have been utterly horrid and yet keeps crapping them out, so.... this wasnt surprising.

    Still, this might be even MORE pathetic.  All they did was copy someone else's game in the derpy style of "Oh well if it worked for these guys, OBVIOUSLY it'll work for us if we just copy it" that way, way too many rather dumb publishers think is a good idea.

    This is why I tend to not even look at games if they've got Sega's awful label on them.  

  • B30

    There was the Endless Runner "Brave Edition" and this is now the "Zaxxon Edition", right? Shame on Sega!

  • DeInit

    No, it does NOT depend on whether one is a "retro purist" or not. While the game mechanic of the original game was a way to deal with certain limitations of the hardware, it also constituted the whole of what the game was about. This is not R-Type, which no matter how modern you'll still recognize from the POD and the embryo-alien boss. This is not Gradius, which you'll recognize from a slew of OPTION blobs trailing your ship shooting laser lines. This is a game franchise that is recognizable PRECISELY because the view is axonometric. Take the view out, what is rerally left to associate it to the name? Nothing. And what of the mechanic chosen here? Replace the spaceship with anything and you have an autorunner with a rotating motion.
    And what's with the review only mentioning the iPhone? It's an Universal executable, and that SHOULD have been taken into account. Why? Well try and rotate an iPad for this game if you can. It feels as though the developers, like the reviewer, only tested this on the smaller handheld, for the game becomes clunky and frustrating once you have a 10" display and 700gr. weight to fumble around with. While graphically nice, it plays pretty badly on the devices where to better appreciate that quality. 

    So as a franchise installment, it doesn't make much sense. As a game per se, it's not well suited for the iPads out there. I'd say this at least should've been taken into account into the review.

Zaxxon Escape Reviewed by Spanner Spencer on . Rating: 2.5