Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#126 – Xenophobe

Not nearly as menacing as it looks.

This music makes this creepier.

To Beat: Beat Level 8
Played: 5/12/19 – 5/15/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Xenophobe Longplay

Appearances can be deceiving. In the case of Xenophobe, I assumed that this game would be challenging to beat. In what little I’ve tinkered with the game before, I got beat up pretty badly. Navigating the levels are confusing and there are strong enemies everywhere I turn. I know the game is a two-player game, so I figured maybe it was just harder for a single player to manage. Well, after spending a little more time on the game, it turns out it is not that tough at all. I’ll keep saying this: I always appreciate when an easy game comes up on my list. Let’s take a closer look at Xenophobe.

Xenophobe was first released in arcades in 1987. The game was published and developed by Bally Midway. It was designed by both Brian Colin and Howard Shere, and the music was written by Michael Bartlow. There were many ports of the game to home computers, Atari systems, and the NES. The NES port was developed and published by Sunsoft and was released in December 1988 in North America only.

There isn’t much of a story in this game. You are tasked with clearing out various starships, bases, and cities from aliens known as Xenos. They have invaded these locations and you must destroy as many as you can. You also try and recover various artifacts from these areas and bring them back with you. There are eight areas in the game and you beat the game once you finish them all.

There are items to collect! Hop to it!

The main draw of Xenophobe is that is has two-player cooperative play. The screen is split in half horizontally. Each player occupying one half of the screen with shared information appearing in the center. Each player can explore the base separately or meet up and tackle the enemies together. You can play the game single player as well, in which case the bottom part of the screen does nothing but display the name Xenophobe. I’ve seen a similar setup before in Spy vs. Spy. At the start of the game, you get to pick from one of three characters: Dr. Kwack, Mr. Fogg, and Dr. Zordirz. All characters play exactly the same, but they have very distinctive and interesting designs and so they are easy to tell apart in a two-player game.

The controls for the game are a little bit wonky. It starts off simple enough. Use the D-pad to walk around either Left or Right. The B button fires a short-range gun with infinite ammo. The A button is primarily used for jumping, however there are many other operations that also require pressing A. You can crouch by pressing A when Down is held. You can fire low and do a slow crouch walk in this state. Press A to stand back up. If you hold Down and press A while already crouched, you will throw a grenade if you have one. You can pick up items by pressing A while on top of them. Sometimes a small critter enemy will latch on to you and you can get them off by pressing A. You can also interact with some of your surroundings with A. Small buttons on the wall will warp you if you stand by them and press A. You can also take an elevator appearing in the middle of certain rooms. Press A to initiate the elevator, then press either Up or Down to take the elevator whichever direction you are permitted.

The layout of each level is similar. Each floor of the base you are on is eight rooms across. The rooms on the end are blocked off by waves of electricity that hurt you and are impossible to cross. There are warp buttons that transport you to a different room. There are also elevators to take you between floors. Each level has a different number of floors to explore. The first level has only one floor but others can have as many as four floors. Each room contains one or two enemies specific to that room. As enemies are defeated, other ones will appear to take their place. Fresh enemies can show up in any room.

It might not be obvious this is an elevator room.

You begin the game with 1000 health points, and naturally, enemies and traps reduce your health. There are only five types of enemies here. Critters are tiny creatures that crawl and you have to duck to shoot them. If they touch you, they latch on to you and you have to press A to throw them off. Snotterpiller is the biggest, toughest enemy in the game. It makes large jumps back and forth across the screen, occasionally stopping to spit acidic slime. Laser balls are floating orbs with a tiny turret on them. They fly in small bursts around the room and occasionally fire. Slimes are low, slow-moving enemies that don’t post much of a threat. Finally, Spiderion is a tall enemy that hangs from the ceiling and tosses bombs when you get close. Other traps include dripping slime from the ceiling and the electric bars that prohibit you from passing through.

There are a bunch of pickups for you that the enemies drop. Perhaps the most important are the weapon pickups. The standard phaser is a slow, single shot, so any upgrades improve on that. Laser pistols fire at a very high rate. The lightning gun has reduced range and speed but deals more damage. The smoke gun is the strongest gun by far, but it has such a short range that it almost functions more like a melee weapon than a gun. These guns all have unlimited firepower and are retained until the end of the level. You can also pick up grenades which deal the most damage when tossed. Weapons aside, there are about a dozen other objects to grab. Some of them like the medicine or coffee cup add health, while the rest are just for points.

The way to clear each level is to defeat as many enemies as possible. You explore to look for weapons, items, and enemies to defeat. After killing enough enemies in the level, an orb appears that you grab to get beamed out of the space station and finish the level. There is a hidden timer going that helps keep track of one of two outcomes at the end of the stage. If you beat enough enemies fast enough, the space station is declared “cleared of Xenos” and you are awarde and end-of-level point bonus. Otherwise, the station is “overrun by Xenos” and you get no bonus. The bonus is both points and some additional health, so it is something you want to strive for. You also get bonus points for each item recovered during your run. The bonus points for items increase between levels as you acquire more items because the game keeps track of all past items collected, so your bonuses scale quickly once you have cleared multiple levels successfully.

These snotterpillars are really annoying enemies.

This was my first time playing Xenophobe. As mentioned in the intro, I’ve tinkered with the game in testing but that’s all. I didn’t play the arcade version because I don’t think I ever saw a cabinet for it. This is a common, cheap cart that I have owned at least a few copies of while collecting.

This seems at first to be a difficult game for a few reasons. You only get one life in this game and there are no continues. The big Snotterpillers can overrun you in a hurry and they constantly respawn. The levels are confusing to navigate. It seems much worse than it is. Here is my strategy and secret for dealing with this game. I guess this is the spoiler warning if you want to try and figure it out for yourself. Since the goal of the game is to defeat enemies, you don’t have to explore much at all if you don’t want to. Each room can only hold two enemies at once, including the dripping slime. Only the first two or three enemies in a room drop items, so you might want to explore a little bit, but otherwise you can stick around in the same room and keep defeating enemies as they spawn. I like to explore until I find a better blaster, but it’s not strictly necessary. The trick to fighting Snotterpillers is to jump over them as they land, then you can follow them to the wall and blast them from behind. You can do this with the normal gun with slow, rhythmic firing; a better gun simply makes it easier. If you get a bad spawn point or start to get overwhelmed, just leave the room and try from a fresh one. If I get a room emptied out, I can usually take out a new Snotterpiller before the next one spawns. From there, it’s just repeating that consistently until you get the orb to finish the stage. It might be dull playing this way, but it is effective.

While Xenophobe is probably a challenging, more engaging game in the arcade, I found the NES port to be a bit underwhelming. The graphics in the game are decent. I like the character designs a lot. I think the backgrounds can get a little too busy at times, but there are some interesting looking rooms if you search around. Sunsoft doesn’t really do wrong in the music department, but here there’s only the title music and end-of-level music. During gameplay there are only ambient sounds of the space station along with standard sound effects. The controls are sometimes cumbersome to use. The floaty jumping is both a benefit for aiming at airborne targets and a hindrance for delaying your next shot if you miss. The gameplay would have been more fun if I had more of an objective than just defeating enemies over and over. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how to effectively kill enemies, and the game became a drag once I reached that point. Xenophobe is definitely not a bad game, but it’s not an essential game either.

#126 – Xenophobe

#126 – Xenophobe

Posted In: Finished

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