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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Sanxion (Commodore 64)

I'm going to do this Hyper-Thalamus! thing in chronological order... makes sense, really. That being the case, I'm starting off with their first release, a game that caused a bit of a stir for a number of reasons... Sanxion.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Thalamus was owned by Newsfield Corporation. Also owned by Newsfield Corporation was the legendary Commodore 64 magazine, ZZAP! 64. So when Sanxion was reviewed by ZZAP! 64 and awarded a Sizzler!, there were cries of foul play from other quarters. Were they right to be suspicious?

I don't think so.

Uh-oh... this looks like trouble...

Sanxion is a horizontally-scrolling shooter, although it's a little different from many of the day in that the bottom half of the screen has a side-on view where the action is concentrated, while the top half has an overhead-view scanner. That said, the scanner view doesn't extend much beyond what you can see in the bottom screen, but it gives you just enough extra to let you prepare a little for each upcoming wave.

Something that's a bit frightening from the off is the speed of the game. Once you push that stick to the right, you're really moving! Truth be told, you go too fast to really have a chance, but luckily you can dictate the pace at which you fly, which makes things a little bit easier (albeit far from easy!), and only results in your end-level bonus taking a hit (no great hardship).

Bonus time! All you have to do here is blast everything!

There are, though, occasional levels or moments within levels where you're forced to fly at full pelt. Unfortunately for you, that's usually at sections where there are barriers to negotiate. They're always in the same place, so once you've learned where they are and committed them to memory, you should sail through every time. Getting there takes a while and a lot of lives, though...

After every level, you'll play a bonus section. During these, you'll fly through rainbow-striped areas, either destroying waves of spaceships or picking up bonus coins. You can't die in these areas, but careful piloting can net you some pretty big scores.

Oh come on, that's hardly fair...

Sanxion is a funny game. It can be, in the same game, both exhilarating and frustrating. When you whizz through a few attack waves or barriers at top speed and come out unscathed, it's quite a rush. On the other hand, it can be annoying to hit barrier after barrier and watching your number of lives dwindle. Still, it's a highly polished game, with good graphics (the wobbling ship is a lovely touch), amazing music (particularly the loading screen - one of Rob Hubbard's best) and plenty of stuff to blast.

Looking back on it, Sanxion was an impressive debut game from Thalamus, but also a pretty big statement of intent. The high production values and polish would be synonymous with the Thalamus name, although so would the occasionally frustrating gameplay...


  1. Great stuff, PaulE. Difficulty curve aside, I don't mind Sanzion - though, in retrospect, that's more for the production values than the game itself. You're quite right about the music, too; the loader is Hubbard's best by far (remember the synth version that was on the first Zzap covertape? Amazing!). In fact, I'm listening to it now at work via SID Player ;)

    It'll be interesting to read your take on Delta - in my opinion, it raised the bar even further in terms of production values (with the Mix-e-load), but the brutally unforgiving gameplay left a sour taste. Looking forward to it...

  2. That music is pretty special, isn't it? Not my favourite Hubbard tune, though. That honour goes to Thrust. International Karate and the Last V8 had really atmospheric tunes too.

  3. I love Sanxion. Great music, and great gameplay. I'm terrible at it, but that's not the point.

  4. I love the music and have an .mp3 version which I listen to at work now and again. Brilliant. This and Bionic Commando are my favourite tunes.