The Retro Shooter That Fits Perfectly On The Vita | TxK Review
With the advent of consoles and handhelds, the decline of arcades became a reality. And with the downfall of arcades, so to went most of those arcade experiences. The rise of “AAA” games and cut-scenes permeate nearly every game, but the Indie developers continually pull back the curtain to expose the younger players to the roots of gaming as we know it today. One of the most recognizable games from arcades is Tempest, and the creator of TxK, Jeff Minter, has been a forerunner of injecting life into the genre.
Jeff Minter, founder of Llamasoft, has been one of the more prominent developers to keeping tube shooters, namely Tempest, remakes alive. After creating Tempest 2000 (1994) and Tempest 3000 (2000), Minter made various other games, but the passion of creating the definitive tube shooter could not be quelled. Thus, we have TxK.
TxK is a tube shooter in its purest form. It’s fast, unforgiving and undeniably beautiful, and as much as the game is a throwback to the old Atari days, it feels absolutely perfect on the Vita.
When first picking up TxK, I was hesitant. I hardly remember playing Tempest or any of its remakes, and the only thing I can recall is how god awful I was at them. But as I fired up the first level, my fears were quickly expunged. The controls, while simple, are something to get used to, especially in later levels. In the early sections of the game, simply moving across the fixed plane and repeatedly smashing the ‘X’ will get you thru the level. That quickly changes as new enemies are introduced, forcing you to become a tactician.
As many games in the past featured an enormous difficulty spike and most current gen games feature supremely overpowered heroes, TxK seems to strike a balance of dangling the carrot just in front of you but allowing you to get a taste here and there. The game doesn’t devalue your time, nor does it simply take you from A-to-B. You will die, probably often in TxK, but every death becomes a learning experience and is, in almost every case, a mistake on your part. Early levels with no movement allow you to become familiar with the controls before tossing you into levels that have twisting planes, often times flipping unto themselves inverting your controls. Enemies are powerful, one hit and you die, but your arsenal becomes formidable as well.
Each level in TxK is completely secluded from the rest of the game, sans the score. You start out with one smart bomb but can gain power-ups throughout that level. Once all enemies are killed, the next level you start will strip you of your power-ups but will return your smart bomb, which is a saving grace. Some powerups grant you a warp triangle; and once you accumulate four, you can partake in a bonus level. The bonus levels are interesting, but the gyroscope sensitivity is difficult to become accustomed to it.
Most levels take anywhere from 15 seconds to one minute to complete, and the lack of loading screens allows for more playing time and less waiting time.
In TxK, there are three game types which vary slightly. Pure, the mode most will start with, has you playing from level one blasting your way through the tubular planes on your way to cracking the leaderboard. Once you die, you have the option to start from the level that you died on which will force you into Classic . Classic mode retains your best stats (score and lives) for each level and allows you to continue from that section. The final mode, survival , is the hardcore mode of TxK. As its name suggests, it’s all about surviving and once lose all your lives it’s back to level one.
TxK is a solid game behind great game mechanics, but what’s instantly apparent is the synth heavy soundtrack and the psychedelic art design. The second the game starts, the pulse-pounding synth soundtrack beats on. The sound design not only invites you in but does a great job of keeping you there. Once you die, the sound doesn’t stop, it doesn’t cut-out nor does it loop, it just keeps pumping. Since there’s no break in the music, it seems wrong to stop playing, and falling victim to hitting continue is a menial task. While shooting your way through enemies, you’ll notice the expansive yet psychedelic color pallet. It’s almost strange, in this age of gaming, to see so many colors blasting off the screen. The Vita’s OLED screen seems to only enhance the effects. While the game is beautiful, during later levels, the game can become overwhelming at times. With a huge range of colors flying everywhere, it becomes hard to see where to go to evade an enemy or its attack.
As challenging as the game is, the most difficult thing to do is to actually put the game down. The gorgeous graphics, melancholic melody and addictive gameplay will have the game eating away your hours like the arcade ate quarters in the past. Jeff Minter may get a knock for making various iterations of the same game, but he’s crafted quite an experience in TxK.