Axelay is a perfect game.
Now now, put down dem pitchforks. I could never say that a game is TRULY perfect. There's always a flaw and there's always improvements to be made. Nothing in life has ever been or ever will be perfect. But to use a loose definition of the word, and to keep in mind the time it was made, Axelay is indeed perfect.
Or at least as close to it as we can reasonably expect a developer to achieve without some serious miraclework. See, there isn't much to fault Axelay for. Graphics, music, gameplay, Challenge-to-fun ratio, there isn't a thing majorly wrong here. Hell, even on the minor scale, you have to get into serious nitpick territory to find flaws.
The power that Axelay has over so many other shooters for me? Everything matches and fits. Each stage has a motif or particular setting to them. As such, the enemies fit the stage setting, down to the way they move. Most importantly? The music suits the level. They're fantastic songs on their own, but that they suit the stages perfectly. (play to level 4 if you want to see a prime example)
Of course. opinions differ willy. Even the best game in one genre to one person can be a lackluster entry to someone else. So naturally, much as I toot Axelay's horn, it's no gaurentee that you'll like it.
Then again, I could say the same for anything that I talk about on this site. But I think this may especially apply to Axelay.
Right as you start the game, and once the classic Konami logo fades away, you're greeted by the sight of a gloved hand holding a locket with a picture of a husband, wife and family. This one image brings the game so much closer to you. Rather than a patriotism-filled young recruit who's just doing his duty, as many games try to invoke, you have more to fight for now. With this family in mind, the intro goes on to show alien invaders completely wrecking human defenses and essentially incinerating the planet. Grim stuff, but that part is kinda standard for the genre of game this is.
The game brings about the image of the locket again, the hand closes it, and then cuts to a picture of the pilot, his face obscured by his reflective helmet visor. The suit he's wearing is the same colour and style as the glove that was holding the locket. The music rises and a graphically impressive flight sequence, featuring a very detailed depiction of the Axelay itself, blasts off as the title and main menu appears.
This all occurs in less than a minute of time, yet it speaks a lot. You're fighting for more than the Earth, your country, or even your home. You're fighting for your goddamn family. But! Are you fighting to defend the family? Or to avenge them? The game makes no indication at all as to whether the family has survived the alien attack or not; another brilliant stroke in my books.
Another thought I like: The pilot is very likely to be a father. That means he's older. He's not some up-and-coming youngster full of talent and skill. He's an aged pilot who's probably seen plenty of combat, and has the experience to match. Heck, my mental image of the guy under the helmet is an older fellow with a regal mustache and silver lines in his hair. And I like that image. I've never been in the army and I feel like I've seen enough young and upstanding gentlemen in crew cuts and sharp uniforms. (Please note that that is completely personal bias and is not representative of the general opinion of Retro of the Week)
The weapon system in Axelay bears some thought as well. You're given three slots to choose from. At the first stage, you only have one choice for either, so just pick'em and go. The Straight Laser is a laser that shoots straight. It does nice damage, but is a 'Boring Yet Practical" choice. Then you get to the Round Vulcan. THIS is gonna be your bread and butter for most of the game. Does nice damage, but most importantly, can fire in nearly any angle. Master its use and you will not regret it. Then next is the Macro Missile. That shoots... A pidly laser? Then you start pressing more buttons, and holy crap missiles. You switch to the other weapons... And they get tiny little bombs. BUT! Don't neglet those tiny things. Small though they are, they cover an additional angle on the sides that lots of your weapons can't. Again, master them, and they will never fail you.
Which makes the way you take damage interesting. When you take a hit, you lose that weapon, and it shifts to the next in your three chosen guns. You die when you have no more weapons and you take one lat hit. (or you collide with something) But even when your best weapons are gone, you can still fight. You're restricted to a peashooter and two little missiles, but goddammit, that's when the game gets intense as hell. You swear that boss only has a few scrapes of health left, if you can just get a line of fire for a few more seconds, even with this pidly loadout, you might juuust be able to take it out, all while your ship is blaring error sounds (which aren't all that intrusive of sounds, but can be turned off by just manually switching weapon slots)
Axelay is one of those games that's very conducive to that 'one last effort, just a little more...' sort of moments.
It's easy to picture the pilot sweating heavily, gripping the flight stick to his death, the locket dangling from his wrist...
He sees a missile heading for his battered ship. He won't be able to dodge it.
He whispers 'I love you...' to his wife an child, as a tear rolls down his eyes, as the missile hits and his view goes black.....
Axelay can be bought on the Wii Virtual Console for 800 points.