Wednesday, February 19, 2014


TxK is a ten dollar shooter, for Vita.  It's...

It's like...


It's exactly what I thought it was the first time I saw its gameplay.

It is trippy as hell.

It's as if the spirit of the eighties, rendered down to a pure, undying soul of indelibly bad taste, sought out and seduced the most socially-awkward aspects of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! with its pulsating neon wiles. In a continued fit of weirdness, these hideous parents then, nine months later, squeezed out a vector shooter called TxK.

The act of playing it feels distressingly like being drunk or, perhaps more accurately, under the influence of acid - an inability to concentrate or comprehend, with a side order of nausea.

Tempest (1981, arcade)
To back off a bit, TxK is the latest product of gaming madman Jeff 'Yak' Minter, a developer who's been in the industry for over thirty years.  Notably, for our discussion here today, he developed Tempest 2000 for the Jaguar in 1994, which was itself a sequel to the ancient arcade shooter Tempest.

Checking out screens of Tempest and Minter's Tempest 2000, TxK comes into clear focus as a spiritual sequel to these ancient wares.

The gameplay surface is the edge of a long geometric shape, comprised of flat channels.  You can only guide your "ship" along the topmost edge of the shape, launching projectiles down the surface to destroy waves of enemies that approach.

If they reach the top edge, where you are, they'll creep along it - reducing the area you have to dance across - and when they collide with your ship it makes this creepy dying/screaming sound...

The game explains itself in broad strokes - it points out what power-ups are, how to use jump (a lifesaver, which flings your ship high above the edge of the shape to take out any enemies who've made it to the top), and what those mysterious warp triangles are - but leaves the minutae entirely up to you.  I almost quit the game after I got insta-killed a half-dozen times, before consciously slowing my mind and trying to observe how it got me.

Like many of the indie, retro-flavored titles that have called the Vita home lately, it's not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination - but it earns one's affection through gameplay that recalls the olden days.  Days of pulsating, lurid graphics and the flat-out requirement that the player's eyes glaze over as their conscious thought processes slow down and they begin to play entirely on instinct.

There is depth here that belies its throbbing presentation (the music is as hallucinogenic as the visuals), and the more you play, the more you learn, the more you find yourself drifting into gaming's sweet spot...

...but even so.  Even though I find I have little to complain about with TxK, I feel a bit ripped off at its price tag.  If I were to recommend a shooter on Vita, there are a half-dozen titles I'd suggest you check out before considering this psychotic little game - unless you're ravenous for something totally, willfully different from anything else out there.

It's certainly that.  Most of all, TxK is a game that feels like it exists only for gamers who loved Tempest and Tempest 2000.  If you don't fall in to that category you may - like me - play TxK for a bit, trip out on its neon fireworks visuals and trance-y sountrack, and quickly move on, to find something more purely enjoyable.

I don't know if TxK is worth the stellar reviews its earned elsewhere. It can't maintain my interest for long enough to find out - but I am sure of one thing.  This game is trippy as hell, and odds are if the words Tempest mean nothing to you, you've never played anything like it.

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