Associative memory is a funny thing.
We all have random, seemingly insignificant little “things” in our lives that, for whatever reason; remind us of what’s most important to us.
I have a teddy bear that, while not important to me in any way, will always make me think of my Grandpa.
Every time someone mentions the words “scavenger hunt,” I’m reminded of the first time I ever got lost.
Playing old videogames from my youth has always been my way of revisiting old memories.
Skip to :45 for the scary part:
And whenever I play Axelay, I’m reminded of my friend Ben.
Ben was my friend for only a few years, between 5th and 8th grade, but his influence on me to this is day has been profound.
He introduced me to the concept of self-reliance, and walking to where I wanted to go instead of always getting rides from my parents.
Well, maybe not at the same time, but he was pretty good at both.
Ben also shared my passion for console videogames, though I will confess that his taste in games was somewhat different and, dare I say; “better” than mine.
Oh yeah, and he had some weird, esoteric game I’ve never seen or heard of anywhere else called Kendo Rage.
Apparently it was a gift from someone, so I couldn’t blame him for owning it, but either way; that game was fucking horrible.
By far my favorite game in his collection though, was an early Konami space shooter on the Super NES called Axelay.
Axelay was, and still remains to this day, one of my favorite shoot ’em ups.
Though I tend to place little stock in games’ accomplishments based on their graphical fidelity, I feel it is necessary to point out that Axelay was a very handsome game for it’s time.
With a vast array of lavishly detailed and vibrantly animated sprites populating the games intensely varied backgrounds from stage to stage, Axelay was a stunner from start to finish.
The gameplay in Axelay was surprisingly varied and polished for a space shooter, to a point in which it was hard to believe the game was an early Super NES title.
The key innovations of Axelay’s gameplay were it’s inclusion of both vertical and horizontal scrolling gameplay styles, as well as a unique weapon select system that had the player outfit their ship prior to each stage as opposed to scrambling for power-ups throughout.
I’d like to take this moment to preach my love and appreciation for the Round Vulcan, as it was easily one of the slickest and most inventive weapons I’ve ever had the pleasure of wielding in a shoot ’em up.
A neat feature of the weapon load-out system was the fact that, when struck by a “weak” enemy bullet, the player’s ship would lose whatever weapon they had equipped at the time (of the available 3) instead of dieing instantly.
It was little innovations like this that kept me coming back to Axelay.
We had an arrangement, where each of us would play specific stages in accordance with our skill in beating them.
To this day, I still find myself reeling at the prospect of playing certain stages without having Ben there to hand the controller off to.
I still remember some of the goofy shit me and Ben used point out to each other when playing Axelay.
In turn, I would always tell Ben that the 3rd stage bosses’ second form was clearly Leonardo Da Vinci riding in his famous pyramid tank:
In addition to being a crazy-fun and graphically impressive game, Axelay also had the distinction of possessing, in my opinion; one of the single greatest soundtracks in all of videogame history.
That’s right, not an RPG, not a franchise game, but a lowly space shooter with no sequels.
To think, an entry in one of the most famously quick to produce and homogenized game genres, get’s my nod for one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming…
I think it goes without saying, that THE BEST TRACK IN AXELAY IS….
EVERY FUCKING TRACK.
Axelay’s soundtrack succeeds on so many levels, that it’s tough just remember all of them.
First off, the music is extremely well-produced, with some very powerful and dignified samples being used throughout.
In addition to this, most of the samples used in the game are from the familiar, and stellar, Konami library of the time, giving everything a comfortable air of familiarity to it.
There’s very little “tinniness” to be heard in Axelay, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
Second, the score is thematic, with a number of familiar cues being used throughout that bring a wonderful sense of crescendo and weight to many of the games’ more intense moments.
On the same note, it should be mentioned that, since Axelay is indeed a scrolling shooter, all of the soundtracks’ major climaxes mesh with the timing of the gameplay dead on.
And third, the music is varied and appropriate throughout.
Axelay is a game that goes through drastic scenery changes from stage to stage, and at no point does the music ever fail to make the transition with the same gusto and grace as the games’ beautiful graphics.
No better example of this, is during the transition from stage 4, to stage 5, wherein the player jumps from a subterranean, underwater cave filled with all sorts of monstrous creatures, to a violently erupting lava planet filled with magma spewing drones and dragons:
See what I mean?
The two stages are like night and day, and yet the composer, Sotaro Tojima, hits just the right notes on both occasions.
If I was forced to pick a favorite track in Axelay, it would probably be the ending credits theme.
The track is a wonderfully exhilarating and uplifting track that brings to mind images of exactly what a “you just saved the world” track should.
Hope, triumph, and a long journey home are concepts that come to mind when I listen to this track:
The ending track of Axelay is essentially the ultimate version of what one could consider the “theme” of the game.
The melody used throughout it, is a remixed version of the opening stage track, something that I feel adds weight to the player’s accomplishments after beating the game.
It’s like the game is reminding you of how you began the experience, and how far you’ve come since.
Axelay’s soundtrack is so good, that I think I’ll be a nice guy and give everyone a download link for the entire OST:
Axelay was an excellent space shooter of unparalleled balance, as well as a rare feeling of “fairness” to it.
When you got shot, the game gave you the benefit of the doubt and didn’t kill you outright, instead choosing to cripple you progressively until you wanted to die.
And when the time finally came, and you did die, it didn’t bother you, ’cause it was your fault.
In later years, space shooters would pop up from time to time trying to emulate the success of Axelay’s gameplay.
Axelay is a wonderful game with a long legacy.
A legacy that I feel very fortunate to have been a part from the very beginning.
Thanks Benedict, for all the things you taught me, and all the things you help me to remember.
You are remembered.