What is it with Llamasoft? They appear to be congenitally incapable of producing a bad game in a run that stretches back over 30 years. If you thought they might break that trend with PS Vita release TxK, it’s time to think again.
Jeff Minter’s take on the classic arcade game Tempest is stunning. Minter’s been down this route before with Tempest 2000 – widely regarded as the best game for Atari’s failed Jaguar console – but TxK plays even better. The basic concept is simple: you sit on the edge of a tunnel with aliens coming towards you. Shoot them before they reach your end of the tunnel, or they will attempt to grab you and drag you to your doom.
Visually, TxK is a delight. It takes the vector graphics of Tempest and adds vibrant colours treading a fine balance between modern and retro. Everything looks superb on the Vita’s screen and TxK has a clean, appealing look. The sheer amount of on-screen activity can sometimes hide enemies or bullets, leading to slightly unfair deaths. Yet whilst this is mildly frustrating, the game is so addictive that it you don’t care.
A thumping sound track perfectly complements the frantic shooting action, old school sound effects recall classic 8 bit era games, whilst occasional bits of surreal speech will make you smile even as you are fighting for your life. TxK is a serious shooter, but never takes itself too seriously.
In terms of the gameplay, Jeff Minter has poured over 30 years of experience into producing a title that is fun, frustrating, addictive and incredible. Tunnels are brilliantly designed so that you have to work out a strategy for clearing levels but also rely on fast reactions. Whilst the number of enemies can sometimes feel overwhelming, the well balanced difficulty level makes for a tough, but fair game (careful use of smart bombs can help too). With 100 levels available, it’s a fair old challenge, even for accomplished gamers. An innovative way of choosing your start level (the game remembers your score and how many lives you had at that point) addresses the potential frustration of having to start again from scratch when you die, whilst also introducing a risk-reward mechanism.
TxK rewards perseverance and practice. It’s instantly fun, but the more you play, the better you will become. It has that “just one more go” addictiveness that all games strive for, but few achieve. It’s a lesson in how tight game mechanics are far more important than flashy HD graphics.
In an age when new games typically cost £25-40, TxK is available as a digital download for around £7. Frankly I’d have paid twice that and STILL felt like I was getting the better end of the deal.
I could go on and on about how good TxK is, but the bottom line is this: TxK is worth buying a Vita just so you can play it. That might sound like hyperbole, but I absolutely mean it.