When I was a kid there was a small pizza place a few blocks from my house. And while the pizzas were shockingly bad, the restaurant did have two redeeming features: old arcade machines for Rush N’ Attack and Gyruss. While the former munched far more of my quarters, I was actually much better at the latter. So, even though Tempest is viewed as the consummate “tunnel shooter,” it was my love of Gyruss than ensured I had to try Llamasoft’s spiritual successor, TxK.
Despite only being able to move back and forth along the edge of the playing surface, TxK features a surprisingly steep learning curve since pressing left/right doesn’t always send you in the same direction. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is… at least initially. Eventually, though, you’ll start seeing things as clockwise and counter-clockwise, and once that happens moving rapidly across the surface almost becomes second nature; successfully navigating an ever-changing array of worlds is part of the game’s challenge, however, so you’ll need to embrace some momentary struggles.
Everything else is very straightforward. You fire with “X,” deploy a screen-clearing smart bomb either by pressing circle or tapping the screen and perform a jump with the right shoulder button. You’re given one bomb per level whereas jumps must be earned by collecting power-ups. Both maneuvers double as strategic tactics as well as moves of last resort. The jump, which allows you to spring away from the playing surface and gun down enemies that have reached the same path, is particularly cool.
If asked to describe TxK‘s visuals in a single word I’d go with “colorful.” Were I permitted to add a second word, it would be “busy.” Your eyes are constantly bombarded by TxK‘s vector graphics, an assault that, while often fantastic, tended to wear me down after a time. More important than that, eventually the game’s chaotic approach conceals enemy attacks, which led to a lot of deaths and “Game Over” screens that left me clueless as to how I’d met my demise.
Pulsating tunes pump through your Vita from the moment you load the game until the time you bow out. There’s a hypnotic relentlessness to it; one that seems to be not-so-subtly encouraging you to give that last level just one more go. Even though the soundtrack doesn’t match my tastes, it fits with the graphics so well that it never bothered me. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the noise that’s made when your ship is captured. Ugh.
Like Tempest (and, of course, Gyruss), TxK is a tunnel shooter. If that designation doesn’t ring any bells, essentially you move along the foreground of a tunnel shown in a forced 3D perspective. It’s your job to shoot incoming foes and evade their fire as they travel along the lanes of a grid before they reach your position. If enemies (or their projectiles) get to the same plane as you, your ship can be either captured or destroyed; both at the cost of one of your lives.
It’s an old school, tried-and-true dynamic that has been beefed up for modern gaming. There are 100 levels available here, and the arrangement and complexity of the shapes you’ll be defending against all types of enemies is quite impressive. There are straight lines, circles and even intertwined objects that move as you progress.
As levels become more intricate (or simply grander in scope) keeping your enemies at bay gets steadily tougher. You’ll need to multitask, shooting enemies while also collecting power-ups to acquire beneficial abilities like the aforementioned jump and the A.I. drone, which helps you defend and can even save you when your ship is being captured. It’s not always easy to reach those boosts, though, so you’ll need to prioritize effectively.
Although the game offers a Pure mode where you start from Level 1 (and a Survival mode that removes power-ups and additional lives), it also records your progress by essentially banking your best efforts. For example, if you reach Level 20 with 900,000 points and four extra lives you can choose to start your game from that point with those stats at any time. Plus, if you should ever top those numbers they’ll overwrite your previous bests. It’s a great addition, and one most will find necessary given how tough it can be to advance.
Easily the game’s two biggest issues have already been touched on, but I’ll revisit them. Even after hours of play, TxK still trips me up with its inconsistent controls. Even though I understand the layout from a design standpoint — given how complex some level designs are — it felt counterintuitive at times and led to some frustrating deaths. Along those same lines, the inability to easily distinguish enemy attacks from all the other graphical madness can be very annoying.
Simultaneously challenging and addicting, Llamasoft’s TxK is a great addition the Vita’s library and one that is well worth the $9.99 asking price.