One of (if not the) earliest arcade games to have its own TV commercial (featuring the seductive, if slightly self-defeating, slogan "The Atari game you cannot play at home!") Xevious was an impressive game to behold; even if the play mechanics were less than imaginative. That said, this was one of the first examples of the scrolling vertical shooter, and while a little sparse at times, the incredible clarity and conceptual insight helped inspire an entire generation of shmup games.
A continuous, rolling landscape passed underneath your ship as steady waves of enemy vehicles saunter past in a half-hearted attempt to destroy you with slow moving bullets. But that doesn’t explain why Xevious was a coin-guzzling arcade warhorse, though it does suggest the reason it’s not regularly lighting up the MAME charts. It might not be a particularly outstanding game to play, but to look at (especially in 1982) it was a thing of technological beauty.
Detailed and vivid graphics scrolled continuously without regularly breaking for level loading, creating a fluid and unremitting aerial escapade. But before gamers even saw this imposing techno-vista they were drawn to Xevious by its monolithic, ultramodern cabinet. Wrought from the kind of angular, futuristic design that placed gamers right inside the cockpit of the Xevious spacecraft, the dominating machine incorporated an equally ergonomic fit. The monitor lay almost horizontal, while the recessed controls slid accurately and surely into the gamer's kung fu grip.
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.