I remember being enticed by the attractive screens of Exolon when flicking through a copy of Amstrad Action. It was developed by the stalwarts of the UK games industry, Hewson and developed by the legendary Raffaele Cecco. Raffaele had already made his name by coding several smash hit titles such as Stormlord and Cybernoid. He was known for his groundbreaking graphical style which was fully evident here. Exolon’s colourful screens filled with well-defined sprites and objects are enjoyable to battle through and when you boot it up through Antstream, still impress today!
As for the story, well its quite simple. You are on an alien-infested planet and must move left to right wiping the Xeno scum out. This involves guiding your battle-hardened space marine through 124 screens filled with everything that the aliens can throw at you. You won’t only face an organic threat but also armored turrets and missile guidance systems. This is where your space grenades come in, with a slightly longer press of the fire button, your marine lobs one of these and makes short work of anything in his way.
The game shows the very best of what the Amstrad is capable of. As you travel through the levels you will see boldly coloured planets emerge from the black abyss. There is a lot of colour everywhere and you may notice some masking around sprites to avoid clash, for example as an alien pass behind a platform. You are going to see a lot of flashing lights on the laser barriers and the teleporters as well which push the hardware to its limits.
Every twenty-five screens you will find a red chamber. Stepping into this will give you a special space suit and a double-laser cannon. I found it very effective against the chain-blasters. This maybe makes Exolon sound like a standard shoot-em up but it also features some puzzle elements too. Each level consists of a single screen and several objects and enemies you must navigate past in order to get to the end of the screen. As the game progresses you must think your way through tricky timing, teleportation, and projectiles.
Did I also mention that this game is unforgiving as well? If you are hit by anything once, you will lose a life.
Voice of the Developer – Raffaele Cecco
Raffaele expands upon the elements which would later help define Exolon.
“The rocket launcher was added for a twist to the shooting gameplay, instead of just solely relying on the handheld blaster to shoot aliens. It was a simple gameplay rule: moving aliens were shot with the blaster; large static obstacles required rockets. The exoskeleton and double-gun was just a classic ‘power-up’ mode, loosely analogous to Mario picking up a mushroom and getting bigger and faster. I initially thought that a pick-up should activate it, but instead I opted for the changing-room device, which made it altogether more interesting. The alien double-barrel gun was evolved from wanting the player to encounter a situation where he had to walk, duck and fire very quickly.”
The music of the title comprises of a brief but jaunty melody. The sound effects in-game are impressive with different sounds for various guns, deaths, and echoing beeps when you pick up more ammo or use the teleporter. Raffaele has used sound effects to great effect which really put some weight behind the explosions.
Exolon is not an easy game, it presents a difficult challenge but it is a title which rewards persistence. Featuring great music and detailed sprites, this is a must for you to try out on Antstream.
The Publisher – Hewson Consultants
Hewson was one of the smaller UK software companies but they left a big impact on the home computer market. They had a reputation for high-quality games which pushed the boundaries of what the hardware was capable of. Founded in 1982 by Andrew Hewson they originally released games crafted by other bedroom programmers. Eventually they started creating and publishing their own games. One of Antstream’s latest releases, Technician Ted was also developed by Hewson and well worth checking out.
Exolon featured a memorable cover by renowned fantasy artist Roger Dean, who is famous for his album covers for progressive rock bands such as Yes and Asia.
The games levels were designed to be nonlinear, allowing players to choose different paths and explore alternative routes to complete the game.
Exolon was later re-released on various compilation packs and digital platforms, ensuring its availability to a new generation of players.
The success of Exolon led to a sequel titled ‘Exolon DX’ in 2019, which featured enhanced graphics and gameplay while maintaining the spirit of the original.