by sunburstbasser

Xexex is a horizontal shooter which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. In fact, it does! And not just in the manual; between each stage is a cutscene with both text and a Japanese voice over. The text is translated for the world release. The game has a princess and a villain and they don't step outside of their respective video game roles, so you can guess the story. The planet being saved is called E-Square, and I can only assume that it was taken over to give it a better name.

Xexex was released by Konami in 1991 running on hardware designed specifically for the game. Tons of colors at once, all kinds of sprite scaling, rotation, and general manipulation, transparencies, gorgeous backgrounds, and level design that takes every Konami trait and does it better than ever before. After playing three rather bland Konami shmups, getting to Xexex for the first time in a month or so was very refreshing.

I said before that Thunder Cross seemed to take some design elements from R- Type. Xexex goes a step further and takes the pod concept straight across. In my opinion, Xexex outdoes R-Type with the pod. Your ship, the Flintlock, always has a pod called the Flint. It only attaches to the front. When attached, it can block some bullets and unleash a charge shot which is actually a huge tentacle. Two levels of charge are available, that send the tentacle either half way or all the way across the screen. Irem had done tentacles with X-Multiply, but Konami did it better.

Detach the Flint and the fun really begins. The Flintlock still has the most recently acquired weapon, unlike R-Type where the weapons were part of the Force. Holding the fire button no longer charges, but full auto is activated. The tentacle pod will wave up to three tentacles around and fly around the screen on it's own to hunt down enemies and tentacle rape them to death. The AI is unfortunately pretty stupid, but it is possible to charge a shot and fire the Flint across the screen and stick it on a boss or enemy, or detach it and hide from bullets in the tentacles.

Konami went to town with the weapons, with a large assortment that all have a sweet look for backup. A disembodied woman will yell out the name of any weapons picked up, and the currently equipped weapon is displayed in the lower left corner.

This is a standard forward shot. While called a laser, it looks more like bullets to me. Pretty useful with the pod detached.

The Spiral Laser is one of the more common weapons and fairly useful. It looks like a piece of ribbon unwinding itself as it travels, getting wider as it goes. While the damage is average at best, the width makes it useful and it just looks cool.

A blue arc that shoots down, then travels along the ground and can actually do serious damage to anything it hits. In my opinion, the least useful weapon because it only shoots downwards, while many enemies will appear from above.

Sit still and fire, and this looks like the original Gradius laser, a long thin beam. However, move the Flintlock and the beam will follow and leave a shadow behind it that damages anything it touches. Very powerful, and covers a solid fourth of the screen with ease. Overall, the best weapon.

A three way beam. One shoots straight ahead, the other two will curve up or down to hit enemies. It isn't perfect and sometimes they do miss. It also seems to do little damage, at least the curving lasers. Despite this, it is still useful in many stages since it is the only weapon that reliably shoots up and down.

A straight beam with electric ripples. It travels very fast and bends at right angles to chase down any enemy on screen. Faster than the Homing Laser, but less powerful and no forward dumb shot to compensate.

Collect a tentacle icon to increase the strength of your Hentai monster pod. When detached, the tentacles will flail about. When attached, they can be charged and turned into very large tentacles. With three, they reach above and below a good distance and do enormous damage.

Wouldn't be Konami without this item! Looks like a canister, does exactly what a speedup should. Don't grab more than two.

With luck, a few of these will turn up in a game. They grant an extend.

There is no score system in this game beyond the slaughter of a villain's intergalactic forces. Shoot things, get points. Same as the other Konami shmups.

The sounds are downright incredible. The powerful hardware was used to create sound on par with the graphics. While still using Konami-brand synth voices, the overall quality is much better than the Gradius and Thunder Cross games and sounds better than anything else Konami had done at this time, and I'd argue that until they used redbook audio on the PC Engine CD this is the best Konami ever sounded. Explosions are deep and boomy, with lots of grit. Lasers have a sizzle to them, as if they are actually burning through the air. The sound effect that plays when the tentacle pod is shot out sounds like a high-speed flyby. Some enemies die with a breathy, choral sound. And that's just the sound effects!

The music itself is awesome. It has the upbeat rock and roll styles typical of Konami. Thunder Cross had some good music as well, but here the compositions are in general better orchestrated and the quality of sound is far better. Reverb is used to add some depth, and used well. While Konami never really had a problem, some developers couldn't use reverb very well (think Samurai Shodown on SNES). The number of tracks is also quite large, as I picked out a drum part, bass, two guitars, and a synthesizer all playing the music in Stage 1 and not a single part would drop out while gunshots and explosions played. The hardware also allows use of dynamics, bringing accents out for a moment then fading back into the background.

Kicking things off in Stage 1 are some standard Konami enemy patterns. Popcorn baddies fly in from top and bottom, destroy the whole squadron to reveal a powerup. The background is a green lightshow, and in the foreground is a transparent layer of fog. After destroying a very large and well-detailed ship, the Flintlock dives down underneath the fog into a cave. This area is pretty standard level design for Konami, with stalactites and rock formations. It even has those gooey pink brain things from Salamander embedded in rock formations that grow as they are approached.

The first boss swirls in as two flickering sprites combine to form a single solid ship. It goes down quickly. A second ship follows soon after and is also quite easy. In both cases, the weak point is an exposed part that looks like a brain. Many enemies have these brains, this is just a good spot to notice them. Once both ships are down, they are stretched and pulled before being joined together with a rotating gun underneath them. This gun is actually a 2-dimensional sprite or background (not sure on this one) that is being rotated around itself. The effect would be done nowadays by applying a texture to a polygon-rendered cylinder. It mostly shoots junk in a few patterns, but isn't too hard. Aim right on top of the gun to kill it. Stick the Flint in front of the muzzle and it'll take care of most of the projectiles.

In this cutscene, we see the princess being typical and crying for help.

Stage 2, Planet Dis, looks like something out of Parodius. The entire level is built out of what appear to be beach balls. While they don't appear threatening, this is a shmup and beach balls are as deadly as bullets. Some enemies are made out of balls and rods and rotate to make them appear to be moving in three dimensions. At one point, strings of what look like worms will prevent progress but they can be destroyed. Go through quickly, as they will regenerate. Watch for the big green enemies that look like armored scouring pads. They aren't particularly dangerous, though the mobile eggs they drop can pile up. The scouring pads are most notable for the awesome death whistle they give.

The stage 2 boss is little more than some of those gooey brain bits in a shell. It calls forth a huge pile of beach balls and rotates them menacingly at the Flintlock, which is moderately more dangerous than the boss itself. Fling the Flint into the exposed brain bits and avoid the beach balls. This boss seems to be more for graphical effect than anything else, as the fight isn't particularly hard and the synchronized movements of the beach balls are really trying to look like they are 3D models instead of 2D sprites.

In this cutscene, we see the rather effeminate villain complete with an alien cat in his lap.

Developers love water levels, so Stage 3, Laeau Laile, is all about waterfalls. Many shmups have a stage over an ocean or waterfall, but Xexex is one of the few that uses floating islands pouring water onto each other. Floating islands are moderately prominent in RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Bahamut Lagoon, and Baten Kaitos:Origins. Seeing them in a shmup and not being just static bits of rock is evidence that floating islands are a good thing. The level features infinite vertical scrolling like the second stage of Gradius, where the level wraps around itself. This level seems to be about two screens high, which is actually pretty large. Check out the moon in the background, which is actually rotating! A few floating lakes (even more inexplicable than islands as they have no bottom!) play host to enemies that makes a distinct string-like sound on death. It actually fits the music fairly well. Don't move vertically too quickly as the islands do get packed pretty tight and while the scrolling isn't slow it is very easy to run into an island at the edge of the screen. If a section seems too hard, ease the level vertically a screen's height or so and sometimes the enemies will be attacking from below instead of above and may be easier to deal with.

The stage 3 boss is a Chinese dragon. The infinite scrolling is still in effect and the dragon will actually chase the Flintlock while attacking. It will normally hang on the left side, and occasionally dart out for a ramming attack. This isn't very deadly, but it can wrap itself around the Flintlock and force a collision. The dragon's body is very long, so long it won't fit on the screen. Amusingly, the brain bits are located in the middle of the forehead and the dragon will cry in agony every time it takes damage. Shove the Flint in there and listen to the cacophony.

In this cutscene, we see the princess get zapped. As a video game princess, she had it coming.

The inspiration for Stage 4, Artere Coeur, looks like Salamander. The level is an eerie jaunt through guts of some kind, perhaps a giant intestinal tract. The walls are actually reactive and will quiver when shot. Sections of the walls are constantly weaving up and down to create a landscape in a state of continuous flux. As a sign that I play too many Metroid games, the organic turrets in this level remind me of Metroids.

The boss is a gooey brain bit protected by a couple of very long claws as well as smaller minions. In a bit of an oversight, sit right in the middle of the screen vertically and as close to the wall on the left as possible. The claws can't reach, and the enemies being generated will die when you unleash the tentacle. It's a great milking opportunity and the boss will explode after a set amount of time.

In this cutscene the villain taunts us and might as well cackle.

Stage 5 takes place on planet Logines. It brings back the infinite scrolling. This level really looks like it was designed to mimic polygon models. The rocks in particular have lots of flat surfaces, though it looks more like a design element than actual polygons as the rocks rotate clockwise quite smoothly, but when they rotate inwards it looks like multiple sprites were drawn to convey movement. Still, the effect is pretty cool and the level still looks as good as most early polygon-based games. Bullet count starts getting a lot higher here (especially on the world version). At a couple points the level is blocked off, with just narrow passages to go through. On the other side of the wall and in plain site for the player are a swarm of enemies that will attack as soon as the Flintlock passes in front of them. Having that Search Laser is a good idea here, or drop the Flint and hope it clears a path.

The boss is a unique one. It consists of two separate pieces, a huge robot and a face in a wire frame box. The face can't actually be hurt, but will block all bullets and can bounce around the screen. Look for three brain bits on the robot and attack. I was able to stick the Flint in them, but the boss is moving constantly to follow the Flintlock and the Flint would never stay attached for long. I suggest sticking with tentacle blasts.

In this cutscene, the princess passes out after realizing that she is an anime design and that tentacles are coming. I'd be scared too.

Stage 6 is simply called Warp. The background looks a little like Sector Y out of Star Fox, with the pretty blue nebula in the background. Then the music kicks into high gear and everything goes streaming past as blurs of light. Powerups move very fast, the best way to get them is to simply sit in front of an enemy and let the powerup run into you. Don't try to go after them. The asteroids can be pushed around, although they seem pretty erratic and will sometimes go flying off and sometimes barely budge. The tentacle attack seems to move them best.

The boss is another two-piece affair, this time two pods surrounded by gun turrets. The pods themselves don't attack, and it is the huge number of turrets that do all the shooting. The regular bullets aren't too terrible, the light beams are worse. One pod always faces left, the other always faces right. Once one is down the fight will be far easier to navigate. The left-facer can be taken down by stuffing it's face full of Flint. The other one is more tricky as the weak spot can't be hit by bullets and the Flint won't stick. The best tactic I've found is to unleash tentacles from behind as they will damage the pod and the turrets. The turrets take far too much damage to be worth killing, so concentrate on the pod.

In this cutscene the villain is getting angry because a lone fighter is slaughtering his entire force. It would be justified if he wasn't evil and androgynous.

Stage 7 is the amusingly named Pachel Bell II (Pachelbel anyone?). It doesn't refer to it as a planet, so I'm assuming the giant battleship is the Pachell Bell II. This is the same idea as Thunder Cross II. Blow a hole in the ship and fly into it to finish it off. The interior has a background that rotates vertically, making it look like the whole thing takes place inside a giant tube. Remember those giant walking contraptions from the Gradius games that couldn't be destroyed and had to be avoided instead? They get a variation here. This time they aren't so large, and instead of walking they seem to rotate around themselves. Finding a safe spot can be a challenge. As if that wasn't enough, during a tunnel sequence the top and bottom will actually close and if you aren't in the alcove towards the front of the screen you are screwed. It isn't big either, meaning you'll have to make tiny adjustments to stay in it until the tunnel opens up.

The boss is a pile of brain bits. Then the villain says he'll just do it himself and a ship rises out of the brain bits. This is the final battle.

It doesn't start out too hard, just aim for the various brain bits. The ship should look familiar as you blow pieces off. After the last brain bit is gone, a pair of hooks swing out and now it should be obvious. The final boss is a huge version of the Flintlock! This one has no Flint, but those hooks can ram into you. Shoot the cockpit. It seems bullets are mandatory, as I could not reliably damage it by shoving the Flint in it's face. Beat it and rescue the princess who is...

Trapped in a spinning space coffin? She doesn't seem to mind though and thanks you then says that only the Flint can save her planet. Then the Flint turns into a fairy and the credits roll while super-deformed versions of the bosses go by. This is one of the strangest endings I've seen in a shmup, and looks like something that would go in Parodius or Twinbee instead of a more standard space shooter. The initials screen has the same style.

Konami's shooters tend to loop, and Xexex has at least a second loop. I played a portion of the first stage, and quit. The levels have been given a palette swap, and now that the world is saved the bad guys are really pissed and fling a crap load more projectiles around.

There are two versions of Xexex, the Japanese and the World version. The World version takes out all the weapons, and instead gives just a 5-way shot and homing missiles. The tentacles reach all the way across the screen on the shorter charge, and the Flint always shoots out instead of staying put. In addition, the lives have been replaced with an energy bar and in later levels energy is pretty generous. I used this mode to get screenshots as it does allow instant respawn on death (each credit is one life in this mode). This is also where I got the stage names. However, it also puts out a lot more enemies and bullets than the Japanese mode and by taking away all those weapons, it just isn't as fun. Play the World version (version EAA in MAME) if you want to see the whole game, but play the Japanese version to get the real thing.

I really didn't like this game after playing it for score in the STGT 2010. Going back and playing through the levels in World mode made it a lot more fun, and I'll be coming back to this one in Japan mode more often as this game really has grown on me. So far, this is my favorite Konami shmup.


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