"Space is everything."
Psychedelic, engrossing, and a heck of a lot of fun; these are terms that properly describe TxK. This gem from the mind of Jeff Minter is more than just a remake of Tempest 2000, and beyond a simple revision of Space Giraffe; it is the culmination of the developer’s more than three-decade long career in the industry. Reflecting its creator’s experience in the industry, TxK not only showcases all the mastery that the legendary figure brings from the golden-era of gaming, but also perhaps some newly-learned restraint and efficiency he applies. It is this modern clarity that ultimately allow the game’s potentially overwhelming visuals to perfectly complement the action on screen, becoming as much of a lucid dream as it is a point-driven game. The glory days of smokey arcades may be long gone, but TxK is proof that even today, that spirit is still alive and well.
Speaking generally, the fundamentals of TxK are deeply tied to that of its predecessors. You’re placed upon the edge of a geometrically shaped grid with the task of shooting down enemies before they reach your side of the field. If you should fail at preventing the oncoming hordes from reaching your plane, they will join you on the edge completely safe from your weaponry, or they would be if not for the game’s various power-ups. Coming in various forms, such as computer controlled AI drones, increasing your rate of fire and the ability to jump above the landscape; power-ups are key to progressing through the game and your survival. Perhaps the gameplay and upgrades seem a bit obvious and even a bit simple, because well, they are, but it is in the near-perfect simplicity that TxK excels.
The vivid nature of the mechanics allows you to immediately interact with the game in an instinctive manner. Nothing is overly-complex, cumbersome or confusing, and as such you feel directly connected to your actions and likewise completely to blame for your failures. While not a cheap game, TxK isn’t without challenge. Yes, gameplay feels fluid and organic but so does the rate in which the difficulty increases. You’re never confronted with an obstacle that you aren’t prepared to handle, and while enemies disposed of quite easily on their own, in sheer numbers they can pose quite a threat. To keep things fresh, levels are completed frequently, with each relinquishing bringing a new shape of field for you to defend. Moreover between each stage is a vastly different, but still score driven mini-game that adds to the constant variety of your progression.
For better or worse, the core gameplay design in TxK is steeped in its arcade roots, something best exemplified by its game modes. While the game has benefited greatly from some modern sensibilities, it doesn’t necessarily apply them in all avenues. There are three game modes for players to explore, Classic, Pure and Survival. The Classic mode allows you to start higher levels, Pure tasks you to start at level one and Survival asks you to play from the very start to the end without extra lives or bonus rounds. It’s clear that these vary to an extent and have separate leaderboards, but for better or worse these are all you can come to expect from the game. How much you enjoy returning to the game will depend how inclined you are to climbing the rankings or setting personal bests. Admittedly it’s hard to outright fault this old-school title for a lack of options, but offering another reason to return to the title, such as unlockables of any sort, would have been a welcome addition.
As you may have gathered, TxK is a lot of things; one thing that it is not however, is boring. Excitement not only permeates frantically-strategic action, but also the effects that result from it. The PlayStation Vita’s OLED screen may fit in the palm of your hands, but the visuals on display seem to leap directly through your eyes and take hold of your brain, stimulating regions you may not be sure you had in the first place. Particles shatter, neon-colours pop and it’s impossible to look away. However these elements are noticeably toned-down from Space Giraffe’s – the developer’s previous re-imagining of Tempest 2000 – buffet of psycadelic stimulai and it ultimately works out in the game’s favour. Instead of becoming a beautiful, but unintelligible mess; the game manages to retain a sense of clarity while still entertaining your eyes.
Matching the pulse-raising visuals is the game’s thumping techno soundtrack. As someone who has very little personal interest in electronic music, it takes something extraordinary to impress me. Consider me impressed. Tracks fluidly meld from trance-inducing to heart-pounding, and we’re being honest it can be hard to tell where to draw that line. Additionally there are moments of nonsensical narration in which you’re told opaque statements such as “space is everything.”. This could all easily add up to become a cacophony of meaningless sounds, but for some reason it all works in harmony to compliment the experience. If there is any knock on the music it’s that nothing really stands out or becomes iconic in any fashion. Never once did I walk away humming a song, or was I unable to get a tune of my head. Instead it all works within the abstract confines of the game, immersing you further into the rave-like journey that is TxK.
The lasting sentiment of the arcade er may be that many games were assembled as overly-difficult quarter sucking machines, but some, and possibly some of the best, were so skilfully designed so that you the player feel confident in your ability to do better on the very next try. TxK is one of those games. It may be a new take on a classic formula, but it does so with such excellence it is impossible to ignore. Everything walks such a fine line between being deceivingly elementary, and overly sophisticated that it’s impossible to look away, never mind ignore. It is literal culmination of a life’s work, and it’s evident at every turn. Though perhaps a bit short in terms of scope, as a pure arcade experience in the 21st century, it doesn’t get much better than TxK.