Axelay Pixel Critique

Konami – 1992

TLDR; All mech originates from AKIRA.

Axelay is a scrolling shooter. An “Armada of Annihilation” invades an inhabited planetary system forcing the player to navigate an armed spaceship through the chaos. It’s an inferior analog to previous Konami breakthroughs like Gradius 1 and 3 (1985, 1989) and Salamander (1986). Still, Konami has fantastic pixel design and someone (myself) needs to go through all their games to categorize each visual contribution.

Axelay has a top-down scrolling 3D background every other level. It’s a 2D attempt to fake 3D graphics. This background often looks hideous; Axelay doesn’t stand the test of time like great SNES 2D games that deeply understand the limitations and appeals of 16 bits. Axelay isn’t worth playing twice. Just get through it, take in the scenery, and then put it aside for better space vacations elsewhere.

Bots, Bosses, and Backgrounds are the Konami Shooter Backbone.

The Bosses:

Boss 1: Insect Spider Bot. Retro Konami games are notoriously difficult. If you die, you are forced to start over from the beginning. Thus, the first boss you end up fighting over and over. Smartly, Konami puts the best boss of the game first, knowing this is the only boss 95% of people will ever see. Its a mechanical insect. Taxonomically, it’s not a spider because it has 6 legs; but it shoots pink sticky laser webs that slow your spacecraft… these webs are a unique sight and fun to fight through. The mech insect is a recycled shoot’em up meme. This one in particular is heavily borrowed from 1991’s Super R-type. Side by side comparisons are revealing.

Axelay Mech Insect

Super R-Type Mech Insect

Boss 2: Walking Codpiece. This thing is ugly as hell. It is literally a walking purple robot codpiece hiding a mechanic machine gun. The best scene comes after you kill it and the screen blanks black and white with the codpiece explosion. Dusk till dawn comes to mind.Boss 3: Robot Witch Hat. This boss is very cool and very original. It looks like a classic UFO underneath and a witch’s hat on top. Inside the witch hat, cloaking mechanisms hide a mechanical a core. Once you kill it the hat recruits a giant lobster cuticle. The lobster cuticle really covers up everything I love about the boss. So the second form loses its luster in this long battle.Boss 3:  Spiked Conch. This boss is an abysmal pixel failure. It is ugly, half submerged in water and perpetually half off the screen. It shoots robot fish at you. It’s a terrible boss battle. Boss 4: Japanese Mechanical Lava Demon. There are 110 active volcanoes in Japan. The Kami of fire, Kagu-tsuchi, burned his goddess mother to death during childbirth. In punishment, Kagu-tsuchi was dismembered and scattered to create volcanoes.  Here we see Kagu-tsuchi resurrected as a mechanical demon. The boss doesn’t really fit the themes of previous battles. Why would invading aliens bother creating an anthropomorphic lava giant? Konami does lava bosses better in other games…

Boss 5: Bionic. This is the most visually stunning boss of R-type. It alternates color schemes from red to green and has phasing cloaked biomass integrations. Fighting it stimulated an epiphany. I have previously (in my Metroid pixel review) discussed the bionic influence of H.R. Giger which is also evident here. But this boss’ design made me realize that to the Japanese, the far more relevant source material for all bionic mech within all of these games is Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series and 1988 film AKIRA. I now realize that Otomo is the god of bionic; all Japanese mech originates from AKIRA.

After realizing this I went through the images and sought out evidence for this hypothesis.

Clearly AKIRA rampages through axelay.

Bionic in Axelay; Bionic in Akira

Metropolis in Axelay; Metropolis in Akira

Explosions in Axelay; Explosions in Akira

Craters in Akira; Craters in Axelay

From now on critique every game on SNES through the eyes of Katsuhiro Otomo and his Magnum Opus, AKIRA.

Notable Images: