In 1982 — in the first ever videogame to employ isometric graphics — a lone fighter ship infiltrated an asteroid space station in order to blow it up, and now — many years later — it’s finally time for our fighter pilot to make his successful escape. This is especially true since – if action movies have ever taught us anything — a base will begin blowing up the exact moment you destroy its power core, leaving you with a very unsavory predicament. So goes the premise to SEGA and Free Range Game’sZaxxon Escape (out now, $0.99), a spaceship driven taken on the endless runner genre — complete with unique controls — that feels very much like a certain escape sequence from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
In order to escape the secret asteroid base — wherein the reactor core was quite deeply buried — you’re going to have to skillfully evade every closing security gate, hanging pipe, and sharp turn you meet as you recklessly race to avoid the flames at your backside. Your primary game play mechanic — in order to achieve all of this — will be physically rotating your actual iDevice, with your spaceship always remaining perfectly level respective to your own personal viewpoint. Although Zaxxon Escape claims that it will perform best if you keep your device upright — rather than laying it flat — I actually find that holding it at 45 degrees works far better, which can be sometimes tricky to maintain.
This initial control mechanic is certainly going to throw most people for a complete loop at first, with many questioning if SEGA genuinely expects for their wrist to do a full 360 degree rotation like that one girl’s neck in Poltergeist. Although many people will have become accustomed to holding their iDevice with just one hand, it’s going to be very important in this game that you learn to sometimes rotate the screen using both hands. This process of coming to terms with Zaxxon Escape’s unique rotation mechanic — given the title’s fast paced action, as well as the fact that you sometimes also have to tap the screen — is where the bulk of this game’s real challenge truly lies.
This aforementioned screen tapping will come in one of two forms: firing your lasers, and performing last second 90 degree turns whenever you reach the end of the tunnel you’re currently flying through. Tapping on the screen itself will cause you to unleash your spaceship’s mighty missile barrage, but you won’t exactly be dealing with too many angry aliens since you previously eliminated them all on your way in. This instead can be used to either grab any of the many floating power ups that you might see along the way, or even to occasionally take out closed security bulkheads that disagree with your escape.
Turning — on the other hand — is performed by swiping your finger across the screen in the direction you wish to turn, which is thankfully aided by the fact that every tunnel present has helpful arrows at the end pointing in the direction of valid pathways. To help players with the timing of these last second turns, the arrows themselves will light up green in order to let people know when the game is finally accepting tunnel change commands. Thankfully the direction that Zaxxon Escape expects you to swipe is always whatever direction the green arrow is pointing relative to your spaceship’s current orientation, meaning that you’ll sometimes even have to swipe at diagonal angles.
Along the way you will occasionally come across floating Z-Coins — typically laid out in either long straight lines, or sometimes in a spiral formation — and collecting these will perhaps be your most important priority (thankfully they’re never found near obstacles). All of the research that went into creating your Zaxxon Prime star fighter was spent around the concept of you being able to blast your way successfully into the enemy’s base, but — sadly — little thought was given to what you were going to do after you’d won. Using these coins you will be able to, between escape attempts, permanently upgrade various facets of your spaceship — such as how power ups affect you, or how often coins appear — in order to ensure that your next attempt goes more smoothly than your last one.
These power-ups include: Auto-Pilot (which temporarily avoids all obstacles for you), Cloaking Technology (exact same thing, just with a different animation), Tractor Beam (grabs coins for you), Super Z-Coins (worth more than normal), and Point Multipliers. Purchasable options will enable these to appear at all — increase how long they last — and even make them far more potent when in use, with each successive upgrade costing more Z-Coins than the previous one did. Also purchasable are alternate ship designs — as well as single use items that either let you continue after death, or skip ahead to where the Z-Coins are naturally more plentiful — and even decorations so that your ship looks nicer.
As would probably be expected at this point, Zaxxon Escape — in case players should find that patience wasn’t one of their greatest virtues — does contain the ability to IAP obtain extra Z-Coins in bulk. However — outside of buying the single use boosters — one can, assuming they first come to terms with the game’s motion controls, easily obtain more than enough Z-Coins with which to fully max all of their spaceship’s upgrade options. This lack of coercive IAPs in a endless runner would — for anyone other than SEGA – be a rather shocking development, but SEGA has miraculously been one of the few companies than can regularly be counted on to be perpetually reasonable in this regard.
Anyways — game play matters aside — the style of Zaxxon Escape is perhaps the app’s greatest gem, leaving the player feeling as if they’re going through an endless version of Return of the Jedi’s iconic Death Star escape sequence. Narrowly evading pipe after pipe is certainly a breathtaking sight, and that goes doubly so when the auto pilot gets activated and you begin watching as your ship precision threads the needle at mach nine. If it wasn’t for game’s rather hard to master tilt controls — which will sadly leave many feeling as though their ship is impossible to control — Zaxxon Escape easily could have been a perfect recommendation, a problem that the upfront price doesn’t much help with.
iFanzine Verdict: An aesthetic that masterfully invokes the intense feeling of Return of the Jedi’s Death Star escape sequence, coupled with a rather unique control mechanic, makes SEGA’s Zaxxon Escape a very unique feeling endless runner. Anyone whom can successfully come to terms with the game’s odd controls will find much to enjoy in the title’s simple — yet maddeningly challenging — mission to escape the exploding space station, which is unfettered by aggressive IAPs blocking the way. The controls themselves — sadly — are the biggest challenge towards players enjoying Zaxxon Escape, and many will probably give up long before they discover how to best go about correctly rotating their iDevice in endless circles.