This story begins in a poorly lit independent video store in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The era of the NES has largely ended, replaced by 16 bits of SNES and Genesis goodness. On the shelves of an establishment called Front Row Seat lay a variety of videogames in mediocre to poor condition, littered with labels betraying their status as former rentals. As the majority of patrons browse through the new movie releases, one boy shuffles through cartridge after cartridge looking for something. What that something is, however, he does not know.
Suddenly, five space-faring capital letters stand out to him: XEXYZ. What is it? he thinks. Is it a word? Only God and the Japanese know. Yet there is something compelling about this box, including the fact that itís one of the only games that actually comes with a box and manual. The fact that it was insanely cheap may have also been a factor. So the boy picks the game up, pays for it with money that is not his, and departs the store, which would close its doors forever in just a few short weeks, making this a memorable and meaningful final purchase.
What followed can only be described as utter insanity.
So step with me into the world of Xexyz: a world of frog kings, naked hot springs fairies, and flying lobster rocket surfboards.
The chances that youíve already played this game, or even heard of it, are fairly slim. Basically, Xexyz (which is apparently pronounced zeks'-zees. WORDS.) is a combination of a side-scrolling platformer action game and a shmup. Basically, you alternate between play styles after each level: the game begins in action mode, switches to shmup, and goes back and forth through the gameís 12 stages.
Now, Iím going to be honest with you. I forgot entirely that this game had platformer levels until I began researching for this post. This may have something to do with the fact that I was fairly young when I picked the game up, but it may also have a connection to the fact that these levels werenít any fun. However, they were rather strange.
The oddest thing about the platforming sections is the fact that theyíre obsessed with balls (which, strangely, Iíve been writing about a lot lately). First off, the gameís currency is balls. Technically, theyíre energy balls, but still. Balls. Yeah, if you want to upgrade your weapon, youíd better show up with your pants full of balls. And what upgrades, you ask, can you purchase for your weapon? Balls. Whether itís a wave ball or a moon ball, youíll have your enemies tripping balls in no time.
Other than virtually drowning in all of the balls, much of your time is spent running, jumping, entering buildings, and fighting some weird ass shit. Flying beetle things soar overhead and, to the best of my perception, attempt to rain their feces down upon you. Spaceships drop manic robots at your feet. Ghosts inhabit treasure rooms where, for some batshit-insane reason, the chests are glued to the ceiling, and to access them you have to headbutt a ghost and send it careening into one of the four chests. My god. There are also a lot of fairies in the game, including one that bathes naked. Your reward for rescuing this naked fairy is, of course, balls.
Most bosses are just as weird. Minibosses in the game are these ridiculous, angry monk statues that fire (of course) balls of fire out of their mouths. The first real boss you encounter is some sort of green, horned floating head that makes mad dashes at you as an attack pattern. Its weakness is, naturally, the forehead, so your balls should be applied directly to the forehead.
Things only get weirder during the shmup stages. As a shooter game, thereís not a whole lot of impressive stuff going on here. The enemies donít really move all that fast, and theyíre not going to banish you to bullet hell. You canít move your character that quickly, so it doesnít have the frantic pace of many later shmups. What it does have, though, is crazy animal ships.
The first craft you get is actually a bit of a letdown: you stand upon a red platform. Youíre not even riding in a damn spaceship, and you have to fight standing up. Seriously, thatís just mean. Luckily, things quickly change in the later stages, at least giving you the opportunity to sit down.
In all of this insanity, how is one supposed to find a story? It beats the hell out of me, but there was indeed a narrative of some sort going on. Xexyz is, apparently, the poorly chosen name of a new federation of island nations that popped up after the rest of the world got totally trashed in a nuclear war.
As if thatís not bad enough, invaders from outer space decide to colonize the remaining islands and build mechanical castles. For no apparent reason, the leader of the aliens, Goruza, decides to kill the king and kidnap his only daughter, which sends the main character, Apollo, over the edge. He vows to do battle and rescue the dead kingís daughter. Bro knows whatís important in life, apparently. Along the way, he rescues a lot of other princesses, but, like Mario, he doesnít give a shit about them. Personally, Iíd much rather give my balls to the naked fairy in the bathtub.
Xexyz isnít really a great game, but itís just the right kind of ridiculous. Itís hard, even many years later, to forget riding around on a lobstercraft and firing at ridiculous boss things.
But, to me, Xexyz is also a relic of a time that is long gone Ė a time where the used game market wasnít driven entirely by Gamestop and its questionable prices and policies. This little local store, Front Row Seat, offered me an opportunity to find gems like this at unbelievably reasonable prices. Perhaps itís a different topic entirely, but I really miss that store, and I really miss that era. So, as much as this game will always remind me of flying balls and cycloptic samurai spaceships, it will also remind me of a time when people could wander through the aisles of a small, local store and come out with something like Xexyz.
Credit goes to http://www.nesplayer.com/xexyz/main.htm for those character sprites.
I apologize that I talked about balls so much. Also, balls.