The best thing about publishers relentlessly vomiting up their ancient 'classic' back catalogue onto the Xbox Live Arcade is that there's only a finite amount of this stuff that can feasibly be bracketed as an arcade 'classic'. Remember folks, just because it's old, that doesn't make it a classic.
If you think about it, the quicker publishers get around to offloading their best old stuff onto downloadable services such as this, the quicker they might get around to re-evaluating their more recent, and potentially more exciting releases for exhumation. It could be a win-win: the retro crowd get to pay for seminal games they've bought several times over, and we can finally move on and take another look at other eras of gaming's forgotten archive of hits.
Check out Namco. Already it is onto its sixth XBLA release with this week's re-issue of 1982's Xevious, having already put out Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Rally-X, and Dig-Dug over the past year or so. As a result, it hasn't got much left in the tank from the era that really works as a Live Arcade release. For example, Pole Position might have been a seminal release back in 1982, but it's harrowing trying to play it these days. Bosconian doesn't get too many retro gamers weeping with nostalgia either, which means, finally, that some of Namco's later catalogue might finally get put further up the queue - Pac-Land, for example. Then again, how many of these would you rush to play again? Not many, we'd wager.
But that's a discussion for another time. Today we're here to tell you about Xevious and whether it's one you should add to your digital pile of old stuff. Is it really "one of the greatest videogames of all time" or not? Firstly, if you really are one of those people who think it is is one of the very best games ever created, then perhaps it's best not to read a review written in 2007. It's worth repeating that retro re-reviews on Eurogamer aren't here to celebrate the cult of a game, but to tell you how it feels to play now, and whether it's worth buying if you never played it back in the day.
In its day, the game was nothing short of revolutionary, being one of the very first vertical scrolling shooters to appear, complete with a dual firing system that enabled you to not only shoot aerial targets in front of you, but bomb ground based targets at the same time. Both weapons had unlimited ammo, so it was one of those games you could simply hold down both fire buttons and focus on steering your ship (known as a Solvalou) across roughly half of the play field.
Xevious features plenty of stages, but the nature of the scrolling terrain made it hard to discern where one ended and another began, and this alone made it feel like a very different proposition at the time. It was - and is - a relentless test of your reflexes, not to mention forward planning and levels of resolve. It's tough - make no mistake. With one-hit death still the norm back then, you get three lives, but apart from hidden bonuses (such as the infamous hidden flags) and score-based 1-ups, you couldn't afford to screw up at any point. Played with today's mindset, it feels sluggish to control and horribly unforgiving for the most part. Anyone expecting a life/energy bar, power-ups, speed-ups or even continues can move quietly along (but the rest of us can acknowledge why adding such things was a godsend in terms of playability and excitement). For the true old-school die-hard, though, this is up there with one of the sternest tests if you want anything approaching a decent score.
Of course, this being a Live Arcade release, things like worldwide online Leaderboards turn this into an instantly attractive proposition for the aficionados, not to mention the achievement points. But, as usual, Bandai-Namco has failed to even attempt to put a value-add gloss on the package, with no high def next gen makeover applied to try and make it at least visually interesting. As Atari managed with Centipede recently, such additions can make a subtle difference to their appeal, and make it a far more attractive purchase, even if the gameplay remains the same. Truth is, if you've played this to death on numerous retro compilations, there's not much incentive to pick this up now.
But while we're on the subject of visuals, you have to give credit to Masanobu Endoh and co for what a game that represented an ambitious technical landmark in 1982 game. At the time it boasted far more on-screen colours than any game before it, smooth scrolling and giant motherships looming into view. But let's not kid ourselves that it looks anything but...ordinary through today's eyes. We know how quickly the 2D vertical shooter genre evolved, and despite what this might represent, it doesn't stand up well at all, with tiny, bland sprites, rudimentary explosions and very little in the way of variety. It's not awful, though, and by keeping things simple and functional, Namco still has a game with enough going for it in all departments 25 years on to offer harmless playabililty.
Whether you think it's worth the 400 points is up to you, though, and something that the free trial will give you the answer to very quickly. For fans, the online leaderboards and so on are a godsend, while the achievements once again reinvigorate your incentive to play games that you'd otherwise focus solely on beating an the all-important high score. The reality in 2007 is that Xevious feels like a game we should pay our respects to, but one that only those that played it at the time (and loved it at the time) should worry themselves about buying and playing now. Bottom line? Xevious has been bettered hundreds of times over down the years, and only the most diehard retro fiend will want to part with their cash for this now.