Review: Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 (Sega 32x)

Zaxxon's Mother Base 2000 is an isometric shooter for Sega's 32x system. While billed as a successor to the original Zaxxon game of the 80's, the Zaxxon name was tacked on for the US release. It is simply called Motherbase in Europe, and Parasquad in Japan. Missing from Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 is the ability to control the altitude of your ship, to the dismay of fans.

According to the box, "An evil insectoid clan is attempting to seize power! Your mission... find and destroy the insectoid's Motherbase before they can break through the defensive net." Like most shooters, the story isn't important. What matters is the action.

The main gimmick of Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 is the ability to hack into enemy ships and take them over, gaining there unique weapons capabilities. The enemies that are hackable have a little red box on the top of them, mimicking some type of port I assume. You jump onto thier back, and you immediately take them over and get to utilize their unique weapons. Additionally, after a few seconds you learn their abilities which can be used after detaching. The enemy ships can also take some damage as well, extending your life. When the hacked ship has taken all of the damage it can, the top of the screen flashes and you need to detach yourself before it explodes. The hacking adds a lot of strategy and variety to the game, as you get to seek out the ships that are best for the situation at hand, and extend your life.

Your standard ship only has one weapon, using the A button, and the B button jumps. You can use the jump feature to avoid attacks and enemy ships, but it's mostly useful for hacking. When you are attached to an enemy ship, or have learned their abilities, the C button is used for your secondary weapon. Both weapons have unlimited ammo. The standard ship is small an maneuverable, but dies in only one hit! You really need to make sure you are always attached to an enemy ship to extend your life.

The action in Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 takes place in an isometric view, rather than the traditional vertical or horizontal plane. I found it took a while to get used to controlling your ship on a diagonal. Additionally, your ship hovers off the ground, adding a little more confusion to figuring out exactly where your projectiles are going to go. Everything does have a shaddow on the surface, which helps.

Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 also takes advantage of the extra processing power of the Sega 32's dual SuperH-2 processors to render flat shaded polygons on the screen. All of the enemy ships in the game are rendered in real-time 3D. Additionally, they are all very colorful and fully animated. There are also stationary objects like towers and road blocks rendered in 3D and must be destroyed. 3D objects like bridges collapse in real-time as well. Some of the enemies are huge complicated models that take up nearly the whole screen. The third boss in the game even morphs into different shape, much like a Transformer. These are things that are really suited well for polygons, and couldn't be done with sprites.

The background are all pre-rendered sprites. The 3D and 2D elements blend together and compliment each other quite well. The only real downside to the graphics is the frame rate. As more and more enemy ships fill the screen, the game starts dropping frames. In a fast shooter game like this, it becomes difficult to tell what is coming at you, and from where, and can be frustrating.

The enemies themselves are plentiful and unique. Most of them represent insects, as noted in the brief story synopsis above. The fourth level, which takes place over water, features robotic fish that jump out of the water and bird robots in the sky. The canyon level features scorpion like robots with lots of moving legs. The enemy designs are really creative, and it is fun to progress through the game and see what things the designers came up with, and then hack those creations.

Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 is a difficult game. Unfortunatly, sometimes the game feels more cheap than challenging. Things will drop from the sky with no warning other than a brief shadow. Sometimes you have know real choice but to die and repeat a level over and over and memorize what is going to come up next. There are definitely some frustrating moments in the game. Thankfully there are 3 difficulty options, easy, medium, and hard. Additionally, Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 gives you 9 credits (continues) that let you start at the beginning of the stage rather than the beginning of the game. Each stage also has multiple checkpoints, so if you do die (5 lives per credit) you don't have to start at the beginning of the stage.

A 2-player mode is also available. Rather than playing cooperatively, you and a partner are placed in arenas and must battle each other. There are 4 arenas totals, based on the levels of the game and featuring enemy ships that also try to destroy you. Just like the single player campaign, you can hack these ships and use them to your advantage. It does feel a bit tacked on, but it's a nice feature.

I really enjoyed the soundtrack in Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000. Each level has a couple of it's own music tracks that mix techno, J-pop, and classic gaming rhythms to create something that is fast paced and fits the futuristic tone well. The sound effects can be a bit lackluster though. The crashing and firing noises are all average at best. There is also a crisp voice that tells you "ready" when you successfully hack an enemy ship.

Overall, Zaxxon's Motherbase is a good game that takes advantage of the Sega 32x's hardware. The levels are varied and interesting, and the insectoid enemies look great. The game does have some frame rate issues, as well as game play flaws, but it's still fun. You will want to keep playing through the difficult stages to see what new enemy ships there are and take them over. Fans expecting a true sequel to Zaxxon may be disappointed, but shooter fans will enjoy it.

Graphics - 7/10 Creative use of polygons, but there are some frame rate issues
Sound - 7/10 Excellent soundtrack, mediocre sound effects
Game play - 7/10 Responsive controls, but can be frustrating
Overall - 7/10 Solid 32x exclusive