Friday, 28 February 2014

TxK [PS Vita] Review



Where and when I discovered TxK [£5.49] escapes me, but it must've been through the power of the internet -that much is a given.

Only a couple of years ago, was I reintroduced to Jeff Minter's Gridrunner [£0.69] [Free] 
    I say reintroduced as the feeling of déjà vu experienced when playing, though on iOS, to this day makes me think that was not my first time. Be it by graphics, sounds or actual interaction, something said somewhere at some point ...we had met before -I deviate.

Anyway, luck had it, recently I bought a PlayStation Vita and stumbled upon the news of TxK. Again, not sure of how (My memory is terrible!) only the result of wanting to play, then share.
A 'neo-retro arcade-like tunnel shooter' hopefully sums up Llamasoft's latest release with some justice.
    If you would like to read up on its history and genesis, there is a long essay at Yak's dev blog available for your perusal [here.] 
    It's an interesting read and Jeff raises and surmises a genre brilliantly.
    A marriage between oldschool video game qualities and modern hardware capabilities both sates retro gamers' nostalgia while presenting classics to new generations. Ever evolving, yet preserving perhaps some of the most important bits from virtual days of old. Though this does not just apply to shooters either, RPGs, Platformers, whatever the type. If it existed, chances are it'll continue on, in some shape or form.

TxK is a prime example of the aforementioned, from its sights and sounds to its gameplay. That said, while remaining familiar, there's enough new, fun, beautiful and challenging differences for those who were lucky enough to have played its ancestor Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar.




Before starting, I highly recommend you navigate to 'HOW TO PLAY' found in OPTIONS> GAME INFO  ,and learn the controls and basics.
    So the premise is simple, shoot all enemies that arrive on each surface, collect power-ups and don't get hit or caught!
    When the battlefield is clear or all hostiles reach the top, the surface explodes and you transition to the next level via a warp tunnel.
    Here, tilt the Vita gently and try to keep the soul-spark in the middle for score bonuses.
    On the first few levels is a temporary tutorial by way of labels enabled on many game elements.
    Some power-ups yield a warp triangle, collecting four of these takes you to a bonus round. You can't lose a life here so feel comfortably free to go for a high score.
    1UPs are also yours for intercepting, as too are consumable ammunition upgrades and points.
    Gathering power-ups as well gives you the ability to jump and supplies an AI Drone to fight alongside the player until the end of the current level. This is great and basically when you learn to team up with it, splits the work in half, plus the Drone can even come to your rescue!

    Jumping is useful if and when enemies reach the top as you can jump up above the surface and rain down shots on those below, clearing space giving room for manoeuvre. 
    If you have yet to acquire said ability and antagonists reach the top -don't panic! Shots are fired from the 'legs' of your ship and slowly strafing in their direction usually ends with them flipping on to your shots if timed right.
    Smart bombs, 'Supertappers' are also at your disposal. Tap the screen to detonate and destroy almost all enemy craft on the surface, in-turn scoring 2x for each blown-up. Be warned though, use them wisely as you only get one smart bomb per level. Sometimes it pays off to use them when jumping.

There are 100 levels to complete each with platforms and many different enemies exhibiting numerous behaviours.
    All these, rotating surfaces and the very clever and interesting difficulty spikes keep the journey fresh throughout.
    This applies to whether you are going for 100% completion, one of ten trophies present for your unlocking, or high scores on any of the leaderboards available.
    Of which there are three, each corresponding to their unique game mode: Pure, Survival and Classic.

Starting the game from level one puts you in Pure mode, Survival is what it is with no extra lives or bonus rounds and Classic lets you begin from any level up to the last attained with your Restart Best:

"Each time you start a level a record is made of your best ever lives and score at the start of that level.

You can subsequently begin at any level with the best ever number of lives you had at that point.

Upon completing the level you will then receive as a bonus the score you had when you set that best ever lives record."

Now onto TxK's controls: the left thumb-stick or d-pad moves your ship left or right, clockwise/ anti-(counter-) clockwise, 'X' burst fires, 'O' or tapping the screen detonates your smart bomb and 'R' (right bumper) makes your craft jump when enabled.
    I'm still finding myself switching between the left thumb-stick and d-pad depending on whether it is speed or accuracy I need respectively.
    It is sometimes best to just hold 'X' and move, though timing your movements, burst fire, jumping also may work better when playing strategically.
    All controls are extremely responsive for both styles of play.

Visually, TxK really pops on the OLED screen while also drawing you in.
    The vector graphics shift almost hypnotic, meanwhile the glowing particles nearly explode in your face like virtual confetti, all in colourful, luminous neon.
    Attention to detail is nice with approaching crafts in the distance and the glow from your ship's firing 'leg' passing as you switch direction. I like the way your ship's 'legs' move and surfaces rotate, not dissimilar to a spider on it's web -breathing life into linear.
    The background has not been forgotten either and it can altogether be quite disorientating, funny too as you learn your left from your right all over again. 

    Though not explicitly vivid the vision (along with the sound) of your ship being dragged to its unknown destiny is rather disturbing. Balancing this are the pretty comical text messages that appear from time to time. 

While they may not provide a massive amount of bass, clarity of the arcade-like sound effects, haunting voices and thumping soundtrack is crystal through your Vita's speakers.
    That said, if you would like a more intense experience then headphones only enhance and should be worn at all times.

The difficulty spikes I mentioned earlier also make this game accessible no matter what your skill level.
    As opposed to a more common gradual difficulty curve, you never know how the next level is going to play out -this adds spontaneity. It may take multiple tries blasting through one stage, whereas you might breeze through the next.
    It's challenging but beatable, fun and my favourite; suitable for quick attempts at besting your score or 100 level Pure marathon endeavours. 

TxK is another one of those experiences that magically emits conflicting vibes which instil contradicting emotions and reactions.
    While the game requires fast reactions, it also demands thought and precision -this conveys through to the player.
    Within the adrenalin, lies a zen-like state of mind.
    Amid the chaos, is focus and calm.




Whether you have played Tempest 2000 or not, if you're partial your arcade shooters you should definitely check out Llamasoft's first PlayStation Vita release. It is incredibly portable!

Presentation: 90%
Gameplay: 90%
Longevity: 90%
Innovation: 90%

Fantastic! 90%

Each session is a bit like a thrilling roller coaster ride!


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