This is a multi-topic writeup. The arcade version of the game is noded in the first section, and the Atari 2600 version in the second.
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Zaxxon was a 1982 arcade game produced by Sega. This put a whole new twist on the common space shooter by introducing an isometric perspective and the ability to fly at different altitudes. This was a welcome change from the normal space game of the day, which were mostly clones of Galaga and Phoenix. Zaxxon was a very popular game in its day, and was ported to several console systems, including the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision. It was followed up by two sequels: Super Zaxxon and Future Spy.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it.
Control your spaceship inside of a floating space fortress. The most important part of the game is your altimeter located on the side of your screen (as this shows how high in the air you are). The object is to dodge indestructible obstacles, and shoot anything that moves. You also have a fuel meter at the bottom of the screen, but you can replenish that by shooting the enemy fuel cylinders that appear frequently throughout the game.
From the fortress you went on to a space sequence, where you are attacked by waves of fighters, then it was onto a more difficult fortress where your final enemy (the giant robot "Zaxxon"), was waiting for you.
You may have a bit of trouble with the controls and perspective at first, but there is a simple way to get used to them. If your shots cleared an obstacle, then you would as well (this was important when trying to maneuver in tight quarters).
What is inside the magic box?
There were two different dedicated cabinets available for Zaxxon, an upright and a cocktail (there may have also been a mini or cabaret version, but I can't find any mention of them anywhere).
The upright version came in a nice wood-grain cabinet with black and blue sticker style sideart. The nice thing about these cabinets is that you can easily remove the sideart (if it is totally trashed), and still have an attractive game. The marquee is a blue "Zaxxon" logo with a star filled background. The control panel has a nice 8-way flight stick with fire buttons on either side (no one makes this exact stick anymore, but I won't tell anyone if you replace it with a newer one), and graphics explaining how to play the game. Arcadegraphix.com makes new control panel graphics for a reasonable price, if yours need replacement. Finally the upright uses two sets of coin mechs that are of an odd "skinny" style. That exact mech is no longer made. If you can't rebuild yours, then I suggest replacing them with the "Happs Slim Coin Door" which will require a slightly larger cutout to install, but will still look very original.
The cocktail version came in the standard Sega/Gremlin cocktail table (this same table was also used for Frogger, Carnival, and several other titles). This was a relatively unadorned machine, the only decorations were a set of instruction cards underneath the glass (if yours are missing, you can always contact someone who has them and pay them a few dollars to get color photocopies made for you). This machine had a control panel on either side and used Wico ball-top joysticks instead of flight sticks.
All versions used a vertical open frame monitor, and ran the same set of game boards. This game is fully compatible with Congo Bongo, Super Zaxxon, and Future Spy (those boards will plug right in without modification).
Where can I play this game?
Zaxxon was ported to all the popular systems back in the 1980s—Atari 2600, Intellivision, Commodore 64, ColecoVision, Apple II, Sega Master System, TRS 80, and Atari 400/800—or you can play the original version with the MAME emulator. There was also a very popular miniature tabletop version produced, and Bandai released a "Game and Watch" version a few years back. Avoid the Atari 2600 version at all costs; it is horrible, the other versions all seem to be much better.
Zaxxon is an excellent title to add to your arcade game collection. It is fun and came in a great looking cabinet. It is also one of the more affordable "classic" titles out there (as of March 2002 expect to pay $200 - $400 for a decent copy). After purchasing your Zaxxon, I recommend fixing the defective soundboard (they all fail eventually), by replacing the 13 "2.2uF 50v" capacitors on the soundboard, and ordering a new control panel overlay from arcadegrafix.com.
Atari 2600 Game
Produced by: Coleco
Model Number: 2454
Atari Rarity Guide: 3 Scarce
Year of Release: 1982
This Atari 2600 game is perhaps the worst port of Zaxxon ever produced. It was made for almost every system available in the early 80's. Coleco pulled their usual trick of releasing this ColecoVision title on the Atari 2600 with much worse graphics than the original version. It is still a fun game though.
It is an isometric viewpoint spaceship game. You could actually move in all three dimensions; a rare feat in 1983. You did have an altimeter to help you with the otherwise hard to judge altitude factor of your flying. The major portion of the game was dodging the endless walls, and watching the ever decreasing fuel gauge. You could get more fuel by shooting fuel tanks. You also had to keep moving, otherwise rockets would appear and shoot you down. Eventually you would face the Zaxxon robot. To defeat the robot you have to hit its missile launcher six times. After that you would have an outer space level, with no walls, but lots of enemies. Then the game would repeat with an increased difficulty level.
From the instruction manual:
Coleco's ZAXXON is a stunning 3-D space game that takes you across alien asteroid fortresses on a special mission. The evil robot ZAXXON and its fierce armies have conquered an asteroid belt. You must stop them before
they enslave the entire galaxy! Pass the barrier on the first asteroid, then dive to the enemy surface. Evade fire from gun turrets and mobots as you search for the Robot Warrior. Once you successfully cross the asteroid fortress, you must fly through deep space. Avoid the enemy squadron combing the galaxy in search of your fighter! Can you defeat the evil Zaxxon?
Milton Bradley made a Zaxxon board game entitled "Can You Complete Your Mission Before Zaxxon Zaps You?". It is quite a collectors' item now.
This game is valued at around $4 USD. Games with boxes and manuals are worth more.