Posted by Joey Thurmond
Trippin’ balls tremendously
You could look at TxK and pass it off as a simple indie game that harks back to the arcade shooter days of old. However, dismissing it as such would not account for the history and significance behind it. Jeff Minter, the game’s creator, has been in the industry since 1982, and is arguably best known for his 1994 remake of Tempest, which he fittingly dubbed Tempest 2000. This latest PlayStation Vita release re-explores the ideas first introduced in that Atari Jaguar favourite – but does it rise above its 20-year-old predecessor’s legacy, or does it fail to live up to the classic's legendary status?
The game sets the scene swiftly, with a title screen that’s got blue, neon shapes flying towards you. You can jump straight into the action from the menu, but it’s best to hop into the options first, where – among leaderboards and other important information – you’ll find a brief guide to the experience itself. It’s here that you’ll learn that you’re in for some good old-fashioned arcade fun, as each level finds you moving a ship along the edge of an angular shape that has 3D-like aspects. As opposed to a flat piece of geometry, lines extend downward from points of the object, which enemies use to climb up to your ship, seeking to occupy your space.
To prevent this invasion of territory, you must pilot your insect-like craft around the edge of the shape and blast any approaching antagonists. Should you get overwhelmed, you can unleash a ‘Smart Bomb’ with the circle button or touch screen, which will obliterate any foes currently onscreen. In addition to adversaries, you’ll also spot power ups on occasion, which reward you with bonus points, firepower upgrades, the ability to briefly jump off the shape’s edge (which is an extremely useful evasion tactic), and even a companion droid which will aid you in your shooting sprees.
Like any arcade classic, high scores are at the heart of the experience, with each level transition augmenting you with the opportunity to earn even more points by keeping a comet-like object in the centre of the screen with the system’s motion sensor and left stick as you rocket to the next stage. Also, if you manage to accrue four special triangles, you can even visit a beautiful stage, where you’ll need to fly through a series of rings for a further boost to your total high score. Aside from the abovementioned mechanics, the title doesn’t really take advantage of the Vita’s more unique features, but it plays well regardless, and that’s what really counts.
Indeed, once you’ve mastered the control scheme, the game starts to feel like a breeze, that is, until you encounter levels that morph while you play as well as other bizarre baddies. Different foes are introduced at a stunning rate, forcing you to quickly adapt your strategies as they work together to exterminate you. This variety keeps the gameplay fresh and compelling, with levels always testing your ability without ever feeling unfair. This sentiment is reflected in the title’s progression system, which allows you to continue from the last level that you reached, albeit with less lives. This equips the game with an addictive quality, which will leave you hooked at times – even if you only intend to play for a short period. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little more hardcore, the Survival Mode has no continuity once you die, so both bases are covered across the title’s impressive 100 levels.
It’s not just the gameplay that’s enticing in this arcade-focused affair, however, as the presentation is also absolutely stunning. For starters, the electronic audio complements the experience perfectly, and will have you tapping your toes to the beat as you progress. Each action that you perform is acknowledged by arcade sound effects, too, which adds to the exhilarating nature of the gameplay. However, this is equally true for the visuals, which are presented in eye-popping colours. The effects and particles used here – represented by all sorts of neon hues and shapes – are a spectacle to behold as they swirl, explode, and fly in the background, making you feel like you're freefalling in a psychedelic dream. In fact, we had moments where we took our eyes off the action just to admire how impressive the game looks on the Vita.
It may be a cliché, but you should never judge a book by its cover. TxK may look like an ordinary, low-budget arcade shooter at a glance, but if you fly a little deeper into this intergalactic romp, you’ll find an addictive experience with some satisfying gameplay mechanics, mind-melting graphics, and electrifying audio. This title expertly fuses classic arcade staples with modern game design to provide a sleek gaming rush right in the palms of your hands.