Zaxxon 3D


But does that mothership have the power to see in extra dimensions?



There is so much 3D happening on this cover right now.




GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 11/07/87 – (JP), 03/88 – (US), 11/87 – (EU)


The original Zaxxon may have been groundbreaking once, but today the game feels more like a novelty from another age. Destroying a fortress from the inside while controlling a jet – all from an isometric angle – was an impressive “Star Wars”-ish take on the fledgling shoot-em-up genre, but said creativity and fancy graphics came with stodgy pacing and piercing difficulty. Thanks to the game’s unorthodox viewpoint, it could be hard to discern how high or low your ship was within the fortress. Also, the ship’s slow movement meant that sharp turns usually met with an explosion against a wall. The game’s negative qualities didn’t stop Zaxxon from being a massive hit in 1982, and Sega quickly rushed out a sequel entitled Super Zaxxon before giving the series a rest.


Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]003

Welcome to cataracts. We’ve got fun and blindness.


Five years and two consoles later, Sega released Zaxxon 3D for the Master System alongside its newest and most experimental peripheral to date, the 3D Glasses. I’ve already touched upon the topic of Sega’s 3D Glasses and how they are supposed to work with the Master System in this previously published article, but playing Zaxxon 3D was my first actual experience with the 3D glasses. I’m unimpressed. To be honest, I’m not sure they’re working, either due to my television (it’s a CRT, but it’s a newer model circa early ’00s) or the glasses themselves (bought used, supposedly in good shape, but who knows).


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Is that a Batarang?


The glasses did something when I put them on, though. When I looked at the screen without the glasses, the visuals shook like a kid on a sugar bender. I put the glasses on and the visuals still shook but not as bad. When the glasses are on, every element of the game looked like it was in blurred double vision; like the ship and the enemy ships were trying to rip in two, but they couldn’t quite make it. Strangely, Zaxxon 3D is playable this way (much more so than without the glasses), but it’s not preferable, and I know it’s not what Sega intended.


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Behold! The corridor… of the future!


My 3D glasses might be a bust, but Zaxxon 3D is a marked improvement over the original. I’m not sure I’d call the game “good,” however. As with the original Zaxxon, Sega made its new technology the focal point of the game, as opposed to the quality of the gameplay. The game feels lightweight, particularly when compared to other contemporary shooters like Gradius and TwinBee. Still, despite Zaxxon 3D‘s relative simplicity, I enjoyed it in small, token-sized doses.


Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]001

Look at all those space boogers.


There are three portions to a level. The first takes place in space with Vargan Space Fighters coming directly toward you. They zig and zag and perform curly-cues, all to make you say “Golly geeps!” as you rock your 3D glasses without a hint of shame. It’s difficult to tell where the enemies are supposed to be without the 3D working properly, though. Your bullets will go right through them, and occasionally, theirs will do the same to you. All because your ship is at a different depth than they are or something. Thankfully, this section doesn’t last very long. Once you’ve defeated a certain number of enemies, a fortress appears. Here, like in the arcade, you descend into the fortress, take out turrets and fuel tanks, and watch out for electrical barriers and elevated walls. Make it through the fortress and you’re confronted with a boss. The bosses are unbelievably easy. Find their weak spot, avoid their projectiles, and destroy ’em.


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I know it looks like I might crash into this guy, but we’re actually 70 trillion light years away from each other, thanks to the power of 3D.


As in the first game, you have to keep an eye on your fuel gauge and destroy fuel tanks to replenish your fuel. But you also can pick up speed upgrades to give your ship a boost and weapon upgrades to strengthen your guns (both are in pill form – the future!). Be forewarned, acquiring speed and weapon upgrades will cause your ship to run out of fuel faster. The key to not running out of fuel in space – and really, the key to enjoying life as a whole – is moderation. Moderate movement, moderate shooting.


The reason why Zaxxon 3D works as well as it does is because of the viewpoint. No longer are you forced to live on a prayer by guesstimating where your ship is located, due to the confusing isometric angle. The camera is now located behind the ship in order to make better use of the 3D effect. The latter didn’t work for me, but I appreciated the new angle if only because it made my Zaxxon experience less frustrating.


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Hey woah, nobody said anything about electric walls.


In a beautiful and ideal world, Sega’s nearly thirty-year-old 3D technology would never break or deteriorate. The 8-bit console wars would have never existed. Both Nintendo and Sega fans would high-five each other in the streets with the Power Glove. Denim jackets and Michael J. Fox haircuts would return en masse. Because these events will never occur, Sega deserves props for making Zaxxon 3D work with or without the 3D effect. Not just because you’re able to access a 2D mode by holding down the Pause button on the console (surprise!), but because unlike some of Sega’s other tawdry dips into the peripheral pool, Zaxxon 3D doesn’t need its accessory to provide a good time. If anything, it’s what I hoped the original Zaxxon would be: a technically impressive, if not straightforward shooter.



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10 thoughts on “Zaxxon 3D

  1. The problem you had here is EXACTLY the same one I previously mentioned re: Falsion on the Famicom Disk System with the 3D glasses. And Zaxxon 3D is even a similar game to Falsion.

  2. Zaxxon 3D is a slower shooter. And after playing R-Type, this game was almost too slow to pick up and suffer through til the more difficult sections appear. The 3D, as I remember it, was pretty good, but it took a while for you shots to hit targets far in the distance. I sometimes forgot to pay attention to my ship and died from the enemy bullets because I was so transfixed on my bullets hitting them in the distance. Well, at least the Sega glasses got a game redesigned from the arcade original.

    1. As far as I’m concerned for space Shmups on the SMS. There is really only one great game, and that as you mentioned is R-Type. Can’t wait till we get to that game. I don’t think I’ve played this. But it looks OK. My favorite 3D game is missile defense 3D. That one is probrably the hardest to play authentically today as well as you need a working light phaser setup and the 3D glasses.

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