If you would indulge me for a moment, I would like to take a trip back in time and tell you the story about why I became a video game critic. While most people want to show off the newest games and high-tech hardware, I was always more interested in shedding a light on titles that never got a fair shake. I'm talking about forgotten gems whose only sin was being attached to a failed console. As everybody raved about Halo and Gears of War, I was busy tracking down the games that few people were talking about.
I never bought into the exaggerated notion that some consoles were inherently awful. No matter how maligned the system was, I knew there were be at least a handful of games worth playing. The example I would always use was the Atari Jaguar, which is often cited as one of the worst game consoles of all time. But as many were writing off the 64-bit system, I was busy highlighting great games like Tempest 2000 and Rayman.
I tell this story not to be nostalgic for the early days of my writing career, but rather to explain that I am not able to be objective when it comes to Tempest 2000. Not only is it one of my favorite games of all time, but it's a big reason I started writing all those years ago. When people tell me that there's no single game worth buying a system for, I sit them down in front of my Jaguar and watch as they fall in love with Jeff Minter's neo-retro masterpiece.
Forget side-scrolling and overhead shooters, I was always drawn to Tempest's simple 3D tube design. Instead of shooting to the left or right, I was firing into the screen, killing the enemies that were slowly walking up the tube. There was simply nothing like Tempest at the time, and even now, it remains one style of old school shooter that is rarely cloned.
Although it doesn't use the name, TxK may as well be the proper sequel to Tempest 2000 (or Tempest 3000, if you are more of a Nuon fan). It doesn't just look and control like Tempest, but it actually uses many of the same power-ups, a few of the level designs and a similar bonus stage. And that's not even taking into account that it uses the same vector-style graphics we've seen employed in all previous Tempest games. TxK is the Tempest sequel I never thought would come out.
Without sounding redundant, TxK has players walking around the edge of a long tube, shooting enemies that are slowly making their way up the three-dimensional shape. Along the way, players will pick up power-ups that boost their fire rate, allow them to jump and even create a helpful AI droid, all in a desperate hope to clear the stage of every bad guy and move on to the next shape.
Of course, none of this is as easy as it sounds. The 100 stages are filled with many types of enemies, each with their own deadly attacks. The early enemies will do their best to grab hold of you and drag our yellow hero down the 3D tube into the dark emptiness of space. On the other hand, later enemies include bull heads that launch their horns and flower blooms that create spikes. We'll run into enemies that split into two when killed, as well as foes that electrify one entire lane of the tube. There are too many types of enemies to list here, but players will need to memorize the patterns of every one if they intend to complete this lengthy shooter.
Although I keep referring to the tubes in each stage, the truth is that many levels do not feature traditional tubes. There are plenty of levels that are a flat line or take the shape of the letter "U." Many stages will move around, changing shapes right in the middle of a tense firefight. The levels in TxK shake, rotate, expand and morph into different designs, all in the hopes of messing the player up.
The premise may be simple, but it's incredibly easy to get distracted. It's not just that the stages change shapes — it's also the amount of action on screen at any given time. You're constantly being inundated with bonus points popping up, flashing lights, loopy backgrounds and enemies, enemies, enemies! It's an intense rush, not unlike Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360 and Resogun on the PlayStation 4.
Still, images and my poorly constructed sentences cannot convey how fast TxK moves. It doesn't take much for our yellow guy to whip around the level, no matter the size. Your first instinct may be to recklessly spin around the edge of the tube, constantly shooting and hoping for the best. But as satisfying as that is, it won't get you very far. Even with the action moving so quickly, precision is paramount when it comes to staying out of trouble. And while jumping may seem like a great way to avoid nearby enemies, that too is fraught with peril. The only thing that will help you is a steady hand and learning to pay attention to every inch of the stage.
As similar as it is, TxK does add a few twists to the Tempest template. This time around, the agile hero can be held in place, allowing players to manually lean from side to side. This is good for those times when the enemies have successfully climbed to the top and are attacking from all sides. You will also find new power-ups, though that isn't the main focus of TxK. And although it has been mentioned already, the constantly changing and moving levels make this game feel fresh in a way I wasn't prepared for.
Much like Geometry Wars and Resogun, TxK will ultimately come down to battling over high scores. The online leaderboards track several different modes, allowing players to constantly keep tabs on their friends ... or enemies. The Pure mode sees players start from level one and progress until they run out of lives. The Survivor mode is similar, but doesn't sprinkle the levels with 1up items.
But even if you couldn't care less about besting your friend's high score, there is still a substantial amount of single-player content to enjoy. The game has 100 stages, which will take a lot of playing to complete. The good news is that you don't have to tackle every stage in one sitting. In a great move, TxK allows players to start from all the stages they have completed (using the lives they amassed getting there), all in the hopes of eventually completing the game. But don't think you'll whip through it in an afternoon, because the stages become increasingly challenging and it's constantly throwing new enemies and obstacles at the player.
For as chaotic as it often appears, there's a certain beauty to TxK's presentation. From the way the levels seem to flap in the wind to the colorful backgrounds moving to the techno beats, everything about the experience is mesmerizing. I find myself getting lost in the action, constantly needing to remind myself to do basic things like blink and breathe. And as defeated as I feel whenever I run out of lives, I can't wait to try my luck again. I would say that TxK is great on the go and in short doses, but I wouldn't know — I find myself hopelessly addicted every time I pick up the game.
Like I said at the top, I'm far from the most objective source when it comes to Tempest. If you didn't like the arcade game and can't figure out why the Jaguar sequel was a big deal, then TxK may not win you over. But I'm not one of those people. Tempest 2000 is one of my favorite games of all time, and TxK is even better. It's not hyperbole when I say that this is the most exciting portable game I have ever played.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Instead of simply recycling the Tempest 2000 formula, TxK evolves the 33 year old franchise in a number of substantial ways. The 100 stages spin, shake, move and morph, all in the most mesmerizing ways possible. It's a sight to behold and the most exciting portable game I have ever played. TxK is essential to every PS Vita library.
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