I’m going to start this review with the blasphemous statement that I have never played Tempest. I have never played Tempest 2000, and before playing TxK I was altogether unfamiliar with the “tube-shooter” genre of games. Whenever someone at a conference compared TxK to Tempest, I blankly nodded and walked along. In that regard, I was able to play through TxK and can review it without being biased by nostalgic emotions or perhaps better gameplay experiences.
TxK is a psychedelic arcade tube-shooter developed by Llamasoft for the PlayStation Vita. It was released sometime last month, and it accompanied me during my weekend at IndieCade East. To describe tube-shooter gameplay, I want you to imagine a can of orange concentrate. Your ship is glued to the top rim of that can, only able to move around it and shoot down it toward the bottom rim. Enemies fly in from far-background space and attach themselves to the tube. They then make their ascent to you, sometimes shooting, sometimes leaving debris. It’s up to you to take them out before they reach the top rim. There are a handful of other features that make TxK a unique experience, but the tube-shooting is the core gameplay mechanic that must be fully comprehended before moving along. After you’ve got a hold of it, you’re in for a frenetic, thumping, sometimes flustering time.
Okay, so you’ve got an inkling of what tube-shooting is. Now imagine the tube as a different shape; a piece of paper folded into a ‘W’, perhaps. Great, now imagine the ‘W’ as a box, or an infinity sign, or a figure 8. That’s TxK’s main attraction – tasking the player to accommodate his/her skills to each new level. In addition to the myriad level shapes, TxK contains a somewhat typical ramping up of enemy types as you progress. The enemies start out as passive, slowly crawling up the tube to attack on bodily contact. They quickly become more and more aggressive from afar. Bull heads fling their horns up when you attack them; yellow triangles shoot homing projectiles; a spidery enemy shocks an entire lane, dispatching you if you’re on it. Since the entire game is like the colors move from 2001, it’s nice that each enemy emits its own audio cue when it attacks or is destroyed. In that way, impending dangers are more clearly recognized, which is great because the screen gets densely populated in a jiffy.
Defeating enemies sometimes releases cross-shaped cylinders that award power-ups when collected. The power-ups include extra points, the ability to jump, warp triangles, weapon upgrades, and an AI Drone that assists in thwarting the onslaught of enemies. Jumping is especially useful for those times when it’s near-impossible to stop enemies from reaching the upper rim. Collecting four warp triangles teleports you to a bonus game in between stages. The AI Drone became my best friend during the later levels, as it often became difficult for me to move for a few reasons. One reason, which I’m totally okay with, is that I was pushed into a corner by enemy fire. During those times, the AI Drone could safely clear some space for me to move around. The other reason I had trouble moving is the controls, especially later on. Left, right, shoot, and jump. Seems simple enough, but imagine those shapes discussed earlier. Now imagine them contracting, rotating, and/or unraveling. About halfway through the game’s 101 levels, the stages start flipping out. This resulted in my finding it difficult to keep ‘left’ and ‘right’ straight, breaking the flow of entranced gameplay and leading to many, many deaths.
Play TxK with headphones. If you don’t have a pair of headphones, flex those Vita speakers to their max and affix the system near your face. The soundtrack is incredible. Through all of the on-screen chaos and frustrating deaths, it was the soundtrack (and the drive to complete the game) that kept me coming back. The spacely riffs and repeating catch-phrases bored their way into my brain. It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to get “Suuuper tapper recharrrged” out of my head any time soon. In addition to the soundtrack, TxK’s “Restart Best” feature made it enjoyable to progress. At the start of each level, the game logs how many lives and points you have. In that way, after a Game Over, you can either start at level 87 with 1 life and 900,000 points or level 86 with 4 lives and 850,000 points.
TxK is a wild ride. The soundtrack, aesthetic design, and surreal voice-over phrases make the package unique to say the least. Gameplay is paramount in any video game, so when it is obfuscated by game design, the sum falters. The rotating stages are in line with the rest of the wacked-out package, but they also led to a disruption of enjoyment. If you’re looking for a colorful, retro experience on your Vita, don’t miss TxK.
Space is everything.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Restart Best
- AI Drone
What I Dislike:
- Contracting, Rotating, Unraveling Levels