-Also on Virtual Console
The solar system Illis is a peaceful cluster of worlds. That was until the Armada of Annihilation came. With ease they invaded every planet in the system and toke over many of Illisí own defenses. Entire cities have been devastated and thousands are dead.
Months after the initial attack Illisí forces have been completely wiped out save for one ship; the Axelay. The pilotís wife and two kids were killed in the invasion and now he will fight in their honor to take back to solar system.
Axelay was one of the best shooters on the SNES. Its combination of two perspectives, excellent visuals, superior sound, and fine-tuned gameplay make it a classic, not only among shooters, but all games on the SNES. Since 1992 I've been breaking out Axelay every so often to play it again because it is just that good. The opening scenes are also very cinematic and give you a hard felt motivation in fighting the alien fleet.
Axelay uses two perspectives; top down and side-scrolling. The first was what initially drew me to the game. The game used the Mode-7 capabilities of the system and game the top-down stages a slight curvature. There werenít a whole lot of games that did that, and I believe it was the only one like that on the SNES. The three odd numbered stages are the top-down perspective with the three even-numbered stages side-scrolling.
Before every stage you select from the available weapons, of which the Axelay ship can carry three at a time of which you can select between during gameplay. You start with three and after every stage a new weapon is added to the available arsenal. I have always and still love the voice that accompanies the confirmation of your weapons. ďArms installation is complete. Good luck.Ē I was blown away the first time I heard it and am still impressed by it today.
The fist three available weapons are a straight laser, round vulcan, and macro missile. The straight laser seems self-explanatory, except that it does not look like a typical thin laser. Itís more like a somewhat wider single laser machine gun shot, if that makes any sense. The round vulcan is perhaps my favorite weapon in the game. When you are firing, it starts shooting from the rear of the Axelay and circles to the front. It is very handy when enemies are surrounding the ship and it can be used to ďsweepĒ the top and bottom of certain stage areas. The macro missile is a very slightly angled missile which is very powerful.
The other weapons become available at certain stages. The needle cracker fires a mess of powerful heat-seeking blue laser. Lasers are cool, but heat seeking lasers rock. The explosion bomb and cluster bomb drop from the Axelay to the ground, but Iíve never found much use in them since the other weapons are so good. Firing the morning star sends little balls spinning around the ship and once the fire button is released the balls fly out in all directions. Itís decent against smaller enemies, but isnít that powerful a weapon. One of the coolest weapons isnít available until the final stage: the wind laser. Four red lasers curve out from the rear of the Axelay and shoot forward. It is an impressive weapon, both visually and destructively.
Axelay doesnít have the one-hit and youíre dead gameplay. If the ship is hit you lose whatever weapon is currently selected. If you donít switch to another weapon and are hit again then youíll die, but if you do switch and are hit again then youíll lose the other weapon. If you get hit enough where you are out of weapons the next hit will send you into fiery pieces.
The mission of the Axelay is to take back six worlds from the Armada of Annihilation. The first stage takes you into the cloudy skies of Cumuluses (thatís what they call it). The boss is a giant spider-ship called the Arachnatron. Itís strange how the Arachnatron has ďwebbingĒ coming from the top of it. What is the webbing even attached to?
Stage two switches you to a side perspective inside the Tralieb Colony research facility taken over by the Armada who are now using the Illis weapons for themselves. I was amazed the first time I laid eyes on the boss, the T-36 Towbar. The Towbar is a massive two-legged walker that that fires a beam cannon. Its head shields its weak point making the player try to find a way to take it down. Its animation is great and Iíve always wanted a figure or statue of the thing.
Stage three is back to the top forward perspective over the planet of Urbanite. The boss is the Regenertoid, a multi-staged ship that has a cool mode-7 distortion effect when you shoot it. The fourth stage is inside a watery cavern, simply called The Cavern. The boss here is the Aquadon floating fortress which fires a purple lighting gun that near immobilizes the Axelay.
The giant lava cyborg so prevalent on the box art calls the Sector 3 Lava Planet its home. The only way to hurt it is to shoot away at the molten lava covering its body to reveal its weak point, but the lava will regenerate if youíre not careful. The final stage begins by pitting the Axelay up against the entire armada of the Annihilation forces to reach their fortress. Battleship after battleship is fought with each one launching dozens of smaller attack fighters. Once inside the base itís all tight maneuvers and tricky enemy attacks until the end. Veinion, the end boss, is a typical creature in a wall complete with an intense escape sequence. This kind of last boss has been used many times before, but this one does have its own style.
The music is amazing. Axelay has some of the best music you will hear in an SNES title. Itís catchy, has some pounding bass (hook it up to something with a subwoofer), and even the boss music is different for each boss. While most games tend to have the same single music track for bosses and maybe a different piece for the final boss, Axelay went ahead and gave each boss their own music.
I was disappointed the first time I beat the game and discovered that it was only six stages long. This is a game that absolutely needed to be longer. Since most shooters only have six stages it probably something that couldn't be helped, but I've always left the game wanting more.
Axelay was and still is an incredible shooter. Itís just a shame that there was never a sequel. A sequel was promised if you beat the game on twice on hard, but Konami hasnít kept its word.