Sega arcade classic returns in Zaxxon Escape for iOS

Zaxxon Escape is a new mobile title for iOS and Android, published by Sega and developed by Free Range Games. It’s the first official sequel to Sega’s 1982 arcade title Zaxxon, a game that pioneered isometric-perspective gameplay and a fondly-remembered, innovative title from the early days of the medium. The series saw numerous spinoffs and mini-sequels over the years, but Zaxxon Escape is regarded by Sega as the first “true” sequel in the series.

Zaxxon Escape can perhaps be best summed up by the phrase “Temple Run in a spaceship” as the basic premise and structure of the game is almost identical to Imangi’s oft-copied hit. Players take control of a spacecraft as they attempt to flee an exploding enemy base, tilting their device to manoeuvre through gaps in walls, tapping the screen to destroy obstacles and swiping up, down, left and right at marked junctions. Floating coins can be collected as the player flies, and these may subsequently be spent on various powerups, quasi-cheats and visual customizations such as new ships and decals. Coins may also, as always, be acquired via in-app purchase.

The principle behind Zaxxon Escape is a sound, if unoriginal one. Putting the player in a spacecraft rather than the shoes of a frantically-fleeing humanoid character allows for a few interesting twists on the formula, such as the necessity to rotate the device to fit through awkward gaps, and the fact that junctions can go in four different directions instead of just two. Unfortunately, the execution is left significantly wanting.

Ever since Super Monkey Ball was a launch title on the App Store, Sega’s development teams never seem to have quite mastered the fine art of accelerometer-based control, and Zaxxon Escape is unfortunately no exception. The tilt controls work inconsistently and assume the player is sitting in a particular position, making the game impossible to play when, for example, lying down. There is also no means of adjusting the sensitivity, and playing the game on a tablet device is hugely uncomfortable due to the weight of said device and the range of movement required to play effectively. One Man Left’s iOS title Tilt To Live remains the touchstone for quality tilt controls, and it does this simply by outright asking the player how they are sitting when they play the game — it’s honestly surprising to see how few other mobile games have recognized this as a sensible thing to implement ever since.

The in-game store is very obviously designed to get players opening their wallets for in-app purchases as quickly as possible, as the collection rate of coins in-game is very slow indeed and the items available are quite expensive in comparison. Since Zaxxon Escape is already a paid app, this is unlikely to go down well with the public, as App Store reviewers have been becoming increasingly resistant to “freemium” monetization tactics being used in games that are not free in the first place. To be fair to the game, however, it is not necessary to purchase any of the items in the store to have a relatively enjoyable experience — control issues notwithstanding — but since a number of the in-game “objectives” require that the player purchase and use certain powerups and customization items, it will be impossible for most players to “beat” the game without either a lot of grinding or a hefty amount of in-app purchases.

Gameplay and monetization issues aside, Zaxxon Escape is a well-presented game, with fast, smooth and impressive graphics that give the game a very “arcadey” feel. Background sound, too, is decent quality but ultimately fairly forgettable. Unfortunately, the good presentation of Zaxxon Escape is not enough to make it particularly worth playing when there are numerous other better titles in a similar vein already available. In particular, its twitchy, sometimes unpredictable tilt controls spoil the experience to a significant degree. Moreover, the fact that there are so many other similar “endless running/escape” games available makes it all the more disappointing that Zaxxon Escape doesn’t seem to really make an effort to capture anything that was iconic about the original, highly innovative 1982 arcade title. While the original Zaxxon was a trendsetter, its sequel is sadly just following the herd, it seems.

As a new title, Zaxxon Escape is not yet ranked on our tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store and Google Play charts.