A Look Back at Namco's Xevious
One of the fun things about being a devoted geek is looking back at the stuff you loved as a kid (TV shows, comic books, novels, movies and so forth) and discovering new things about them. In this case, I'm talking about Xevious, a vertical scrolling shooter arcade game that Namco released in 1982. Xevious is credited as one of the earliest vertical scrolling shooters, a subgenre of video gaming that would become quite popular among both arcade and home console gamers alike.
Although I don't remember when I first played Xevious, I became quite fond of it for years--I even bought the Atari 7800 system back in the late 80s because it was the first console to feature Xevious as part of its library. For a long time, I thought that the game was a one-hit wonder, because I didn't see any other games bearing the Xevious title and I didn't know many other gamers at the time who loved the game as much as I did. Little did I know that my assumption was somewhat incorrect: While Xevious somewhat successful in the U.S., it became a cult hit in Japan and its popularity led to a few sequels and a spin-off that were only released in Japan. Read on for a look back at this early arcade shooter and the phenomenon it became in Japan.
In Xevious, players pilot a combat aircraft called a ‘Solvalou’ to fight against alien attack forces from the planet Xevious. I don't remember exactly what drew me to Xevious, other than that it didn't look or sound like anything else in the arcades at that time. It was one of the first that allowed you to shoot down enemies in the sky and bomb targets on the ground, all while a hypnotic theme would play repeatedly in the background. Throughout the levels, you would fly the Solvalou over the forests, fields and rivers that surrounded Xevi bases. A giant flying fortress called the ‘Andor Genesis’ would appear every few levels for you to shoot down--this was one of the first examples of a ‘level boss’ to appear in arcade history. There was also an interesting selection of enemies to shoot at, although each of them looked similar enough to each other that you could see how they would be part of the same fighting force. Sure, Xevious lacked the ammunition power-ups that were commonplace in subsequent vertical scrolling shooters, but that didn't make the game any less enjoyable to play.
So with Xevious only having one title in the U.S., what did Japan get? Among other things, two different 3D Xevious titles: Solvalou (1991) and Xevious 3D/G (1995). Both of these games retain the look and feel of the original game, but they added new features and 3D polygon graphics to give players a new gaming experience. Both 3D Xevious sequels are amazing to watch, but Solvalou is very unique in that it plays like the original Xevious except that it allows the player to see everything from the pilot's point of view, essentially turning the original game into a first-person rail shooter. I've never seen a classic 2D arcade game get this kind of a makeover, either before or since. See the video clip below for an example of Solvalou game play.
The other arcade sequels included Super Xevious (1984) and Xevious Arrangement (1995). Xevious Arrangement was not released as a stand-alone game; it was instead included with the Namco Classics Collection Volume 1 compilation, which also included Galaga (1981) and Mappy (1983) and their respective 'arrangements'. There was one arcade spin-off, Grobda (1984), which was based on one of the Xevious enemies.
There were four Xevious titles for the home consoles: Super Xevious: GAMP no Nazo (1986), Xevious: Fardraut Saga (1988), Xevious: Fardraut Densetsu (1990) and Xevious Resurrection (2009). The contributions that the home titles made to the Xevious series were to add new enemy vehicles and two new kinds of fighter ships for gamers to pilot in addition to the Solvalou: the Solgrado and the Zeodalley. Each of the three combat ships could be combined into a single ship, the Gampmission.
Three Xevious 30th Anniversary model kits, by R.C. Berg ...
... their combination into one ship, the Gampmission ...
... and a Grobda tank model kit.
Check out Hardcore Gaming 101 and Arcade History for more information about the Xevious series of games.