Soldier of Misfortune

Xain’D SleenA? That’s a stupid name for an arcade game, isn’t it? If you bought the rights from Technos Japan to import the duel-genre 1986 coin-op for a UK or US audience you’d probably want to re-Christen it, let’s say something like ‘Soldier of Light’ or ‘Solar Warrior’ respectively. Just wild, off-the-cuff suggestions of course. If it were made available in these regions, say in 1987, you’d likely find that Taito and Memetron were pulling the strings.

My first encounter with this game would have been towards the end of the ’80s when I stumbled across it in the games room of a campsite in Ilfracombe, Devon. It was only kitted out with a pool and ping pong table, and a lonely coin-op cabinet in the corner. Clearly this wasn’t GiGO in Tokyo. Actually their USP was a fishing lake and nocturnal bat walks… something that would come as quite a shock if you hadn’t read the brochure beforehand and discovered for yourself that the creatures circling overhead aren’t starlings.

This being the UK it was the Taito licensed version, and while the JAMMA cabinet marquee stated the game within was Soldier of Light, the title screen itself called it a “liar, liar, pants on fire”. In-game, like the Japanese version it’s known as Xain’D SleenA because Taito didn’t bother tweaking it when they half-heartedly re-branded the PCB.

I remember being mesmerised by the blend of Flash Gordon and Star Wars aesthetics and overarching motif, and as it was the sole option available it had my undivided attention.

Each of the five-planet levels is draped with its own distinctive environmental theme and accompanying, pumping soundtrack. What’s more, you were never in any doubt as to who’s at the helm since the controls are so receptive to your command. Naturally, your protagonist being the embodiment of an agile, super-enhanced RoboCop earnt it a few extra Brownie Points too.

The sci-fi platforming-shmup hybrid was ported to the three main 8-bit systems, the MSX and the Amiga and Atari ST between 1988 and 1989 courtesy of ACE, Softek/The Edge’s arcade conversion label. Soldier of Light – the name by which the home ports were known – was later re-released under The Edge’s budget ‘RAD’ label, which wasn’t all that radical if we’re honest, that sort of thing happened all the time.

Our Amiga incarnation was the handiwork of a development team comprising coder, Glyn Kendall, graphician, Tahir Rashid (Chris Lowe), and musician, Dave Lowe (Uncle Art). While the arcade version is an alternating two-player game, the home computer ports are single-player only, laying the groundwork for an overall diluted experience.

You play the eponymous hero, Xain, a bounty-hunting Soldier of Light tasked by the Galactic High Command with defending a trio of planets (reduced from the arcade’s five) from the evil (and supremely vague) ‘Empire’. That’s who they are in-game anyway. If you read the manual, a two-page pamphlet really, you’d think the ‘Federation’ are our sworn enemies. Odd then that the back of the box informs us we’re a “crack stormtrooper of the Federation”. Come on guys, get your facts straight. I nearly blew up my own comrades assuming they’d turned to the dark side.

Not that this is the only dubious copy to appear amongst the packaging; Crash may have written that Soldier of Light is “certainly one of the most eagerly awaited arcade tie-ins”, yet considered in context you get an entirely different impression.

“The presentation of Soldier Of Light is excellent with a star-spangled title screen and groovy loader. All the fun soon ends though when you actually start playing. The graphics are okay, even if they are all in monochrome, but the game is SO slow. Whenever you jump you could almost fall asleep and miss your player coming down again! You’ll have to get used to doing everything in slow motion if you want to complete the game. The few sound effects I could find aren’t anything brilliant and there is no title tune.”

68% – Crash (October 1989)

For undisclosed reasons, the Empire, Federation, Mickey Mouse or whoever has invaded the no doubt peace-loving nations, and so must be vanquished to restore order and tranquillity, and of course, encourage you to keep feeding that coin slot with ten pence pieces. Don’t try it with your Amiga though, it only takes floppies.

Each of the three planets – Lagto, Cleedos, and Cleemalt (minus the ‘soa’ that was appended in the coin-op version) – can be tackled in any order. With these cleansed of the infiltrators, a final clandestine planet/enemy base follows; ‘Dristarg’ modelled on the Death Star from a certain George Lucas franchise, known here as a ‘moveable fortress’. Guwld Soa (the volcanic planet alluded to on the back of the box) and Kworal Soa (the underwater zone) as featured in the coin-op are omitted altogether.

Lagto is an Endor-esque tropical rainforest-based world harbouring an extendo-necked mid-boss brontosaurus. Aside from blocking your path across the stepping stones leading to the level’s muscled space-welder guardian, and your awaiting getaway ship, he or she breathes scorching hot fireballs at you. This is quite a challenging, treacherous segment in the arcade version, whereas here it’s a two-stone puddle to be skipped across at your leisure.


Reminiscent of Tatooine, Cleedos is a barren desert landscape incorporating a multi-layered temple that must be scaled to its zenith in order to zap a floating stone Tutankhamun head sculpture.


On the Big Bad Boss front, this one presents as more of a disoriented, lost spaceman who can’t decide if he’s supposed to assassinate you, or invite you in for Mr Kipling Fondant Fancies. Described on the box as a “showdown with the giant Robotrooper” he’s barely taller than you. More bare-faced lies!

At the end of the shmup section that follows in the coin-op original you’re confronted by the Empire’s mothership, which must be destroyed by blasting out chunks of its midriff. This is entirely absent from the home computer ports. And anyway, what’s the difference between a ‘mothership’ and a ‘moveable fortress’? Isn’t that the same thing? If so, how can we destroy it twice?

Cleemalt is all a bit Mars-y, pitted with gaping craters, spanning an ascending series of boulder platforms. Assailants include a feebly diminutive Shredder-ish character wielding a lightsaber (he’s the boss, really?), and the usual single occupancy space-mobile bombers.

“Again, a fun blast, but minus any graphic or sonic niceties. Arcade addicts and people who do not know what to blow their last two pounds on should be well pleased.”

77% – Computer and Video Games (Spectrum, December 1989)

Touching down on terra firma the game manifests as a traditional scrolling run and gun platformer rather like Turrican, only much more linear. Closer to home (Turrican didn’t exist at this point) parallels can be drawn between Soldier of Light, Firebird’s Sidewize and Clockwize and Capcom’s Forgotten Worlds. Dozens of games, in fact, share a similar premise.

Travelling between locations, however, you take to the stars in your spaceship as the game morphs into a quickie, horizontally scrolling shmup akin to a basic rendition of R-Type, before returning to the level selection screen to choose your next assignment.

“The gameplay is very poor, with success seemingly depending more on luck than skill. Aesthetically it’s not impressive, much like its coin-op parent, and the three levels just aren’t enough to keep the hardened gamer going for any reasonable length of time. The space sub-game is fun, but it doesn’t make enough appearances in the overall game to make an impact. Soldier Of Light is a good conversion of a poor arcade game. Fans of the original (and there can’t be very many) should take a look but everyone else… steer clear.”

53% – The One (Atari ST, January 1989)

You begin your mission armed with only a weedy single skim laser cannon, upgrading it to armour-piercing lances, double-shot fireballs, triple-fire blasters and grenades by collecting ‘armament pods’ as you progress. I found it interesting that ACE went to the trouble of explaining in the manual that these are at your disposal “scattered over all creation, due to computer malfunction at Central Control”. Normally we take it for granted that power-ups exist for our convenience because they’ve done so since the dawn of gaming despite the internal logic being a tad shaky. Continuing they even make excuses for not labelling them accordingly by shifting the blame, although if the goal was to replicate the original you’d expect that to be the case.

“And it isn’t as if the pods will be very revealing themselves – Central missed off the identifiers too!”

We’d be in a bit of a pickle if we had to take on the might of the marauding alien militia, guardians and mid-level bosses in our pants alone, so it’s lucky we’ve been kitted out with an armour-plated ‘ex-skeleton’. By ‘ex-skeleton’ I presume they mean exo-skeleton as opposed to a skeleton who is no longer such. What would constitute a former skeleton anyway? Bone powder?

“An outwardly unremarkable conversion, which, despite its shortfalls, still provides a challenge for fans of the coin-op.”

77% – Computer and Video Games (C64, December 1989)

Other strings to our bow include the Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts style double-jump manoeuvre levied by our bottom-kicking bovver boots equipped with a jet propulsion system, allowing us to hover for short distances, and the ability to lie down like a mud-crawling super-sleuth commando. Oh, wait, both these were left on the cutting room floor for the home ports. What we’re left with is a crouch and bog-standard leap with an animated spurt of boot steam to give the impression of powered thrust.

“Soldier of Light boasts some good graphics and OK animation, but ultimately it’s just another run of the mill shoot ’em up that won’t get you too excited.”

499 – ACE (8-bits, July 1988)

Seeing as we lose a life when the counter reaches zero, a time-freezing gizmo wouldn’t have gone amiss. That and a dodgy collision detection fixing power-up. And another one to prevent slow-mo chugging when the screen gets a bit congested with eternally spawning baddies that chip away at our damage metre, which somehow reduces rather than creeping up as we absorb shots.

“Well this has been ‘in the making’ for long enough, hasn’t it? Soldier of Light is one of my favourite arcade games (although I played it in its Xain d’ Sleena incarnation), so I naturally looked forward to the home version. The early 64 demos I saw gave the impression that it was going to be really good, but now that both 64 and Amiga versions have arrived in their entirety, the 64 version has deteriorated into a sloppy game with a horrible control method and little resemblance to the arcade original, and the Amiga version has grabbed the wrong end of the stick, with lost presentation and missing levels all over the shop. Fans of the original BEWARE! This may not be the game you expected when you saw the name Soldier of Light.”

61% (C64) / 79% (Amiga) – Zzap! issue 47 (March 1989)

Although the music that plays throughout constitutes only a single track extracted from the coin-op, it’s far meatier and extremely catchy. Playing in tandem – highly unusual for a 1988 game – the sound effects aren’t nearly so rousing. If I had to sum them up in a single word, it would be ‘grating’. Interestingly, as the sound effects become more frequent and intense the volume of the music automatically scales back to avoid any jarring clashes.

“When Maff raved about how great this arcade game was, I expected a bit more than a simple horizontally scrolling run-shoot-collect game. He assures me that the home versions aren’t much cop on their own, either. Neither version is that brilliant – the 64 version suffers from an appalling control method and annoying quirks, whereas the Amiga version has lost a load of presentation and levels – when a game’s multiload anyway you’d expect them to be included. Soldier of Light isn’t too bad, but it should have been a lot better.”

61% (C64) / 79% (Amiga) – Zzap! issue 47 (March 1989)

You’re unlikely to be floored by the quality of the graphics and animation; they evoke the arcade experience in a subtle kind of way while leaving you in no doubt that you drew the short straw.

“Sound and graphics are alright – the theme music grows on you – but this version should have been an exact replica of the coin-op … and it’s way off that.”

60% – The Games Machine (April 1989)

Landing on space station Dristarg we activate an explosive device conveniently mounted on the wall and then hurtle towards the exit before the place detonates. It may seem absurd for the Empire to install an easy-access self-destruct button in their own flying castle, then again look how well that turned out for Darth Vader and his Death Star. He’s no fool.

Terminating anti-climactically without an ultimate mega-guardian in sight (or epic explosion for that matter), the game wraps up with a single screen of text informing us that peace has been restored and we’re now unemployed. At least in the arcade version we were treated to a few extra screens of memorable Engrish. Right, back to the job centre to sign on I suppose, at least until the next deranged dictator decides to hold an exotic alien universe to ransom.

“When you consider what makes games like Soldier of Light popular in the arcades, it usually boils down to a few basic elements – the graphics, the sound and the mindless action. Naturally the 64 can’t hope to achieve the quality of audio and video that the coin-op offered, but when a horrendous control system plagues you then things begin to look a bit grim. Now the Amiga has the power to produce sound and graphics of the arcade original, but for some reason the programmers have got the game to be ‘similar’ and left it at that. As a game it’s not too bad (the control actually works!), but like the 64 version it’s not up to much in the conversion stakes.”

61% (C64) / 79% (Amiga) – Zzap! issue 47 (March 1989)

Xain’D SleenA was revamped for Windows in 2006 by Dark Castle Software and submitted as an entry into Retro Remakes’ annual contest. It was awarded 7th place out of 76 entries.

As it’s a faithful recreation of the arcade game it’s a squillion times better than any of the home ports. Still, perhaps the best was yet to come, and ACE would go on to redeem themselves with their forthcoming releases. According to the manual we could expect an X-Men title, the first in a series of Marvel superhero licensed games, and a Miami Vice TV tie-in.

If those of you who think any of that actually happened (The Punisher doesn’t count because it would ruin my punchline) could stick your hands up, I’ll be sure to hand you a dunce’s cap on your way out.

Instead, Paragon Software were awarded the contract to develop Marvel gaming spin-offs (including the DOS edition of The Punisher), while Canvas Software/Ocean produced Miami Vice for the 8-bit systems and Capstone Software took the Atari ST version under its wing. Capstone also published ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Chess Wars’. This isn’t remotely relevant, just sayin’.

Funnily enough, Amigas appear several times in Miami Vice, yet there was never a Miami Vice in an Amiga, only a Miami Mice. A fifth season episode entitled ‘The Edge’ although written was never produced. Coincidence? Given that founder, Tim Langdell, hadn’t at this stage begun suing anyone who dared to even ponder using ‘Edge’ in a commercial venture, probably, yes. Makes you wonder though doesn’t it?

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