Singing the body electric
If you came up to me and told me I could be this turned around, bearingless and disoriented, on a two dimensional plane of movement, I would say, “Gee, that’s oddly specific, why are you telling me this?”
And then you would flee into the unbearable flatness of space under cover of a blinding vector graphic laser light show with explosions and flowers and bulls and I would try really hard to shoot you with my pointy little crab legs.
That’s TxK, basically. It’s fun.
Released: February 11, 2014
If you are familiar with Llamasoft and Jeff Minter’s Tempest 2000, which was a clear inspiration for Rez, then you know what you’re getting into with TxK. It’s a more vibrant, refined T2K with the same tunnel shooter gameplay. And it’s fun. And I’ve finally gotten used to calling it TxK and not The Tempest. Even Prospero might have some trouble here.
The arcadey TxK, stretched over 100 levels, is a perfect fit on the Vita. You can play in Pure mode and try to get through all 100 without losing all your lives. You can play Survival, wherein extra lives are never granted. You can claw your way up leaderboards on either, theoretically playing forever, getting better at eliminating enemies on the horizon for more points, using your screen-clearing bomb that grants 2x points.
Or you can be bad at videogames and just try to work your way to the end, which I spent most of my time doing. If you lose all your lives on a level, you can start over from that level, with however many lives you had and your previously accumulated score. It’s nice, especially as trickier levels give you trouble and throw new enemies that you’ll waste a few lives figuring out.
Resuming from sleep mode, dying five times, resuming sleep mode, then coming back and clearing several more levels is nice. Especially when you’re not given all that much time to figure out how to deal with new enemies when they’re introduced.
I was expecting to fall into much more of a manic zen with TxK, like I did with Dyad or do with most puzzle games, but I was pretty on edge crab walking around with my pointy yellow horseshoe, snatching power ups and retreating to safety as all manner of abstract color monsters threatened my existence.
The AI drone is a godsend, allowing you to skate by difficult levels cowering in corners. It even occasionally saves you when an enemy reaches your lines, grabs you, and begins to pull you down the row to obsidian nothingness. The Jump ability is equally powerful, but dangerous. You feel master of your domain bounding about the range, but it’s easy for the action to get cluttered from afar or, soul-crushingly worse, for you to jump backwards into something that will kill you that was otherwise drifting out into space.
Playing surfaces that begin as shapes and line segments evolve into disorienting stages that leave you wondering which way is up as everything bends and folds in on or over itself. It’s sometimes like playing with an intermittent mirror mode, because left will be right and right will be left, until it isn’t. Some later levels see these flexible bounds go black and you hope you’re not moving back into the line of fire.
The abstraction is nice. We don’t get it as much anymore. As much as you’re going through a tunnel, it feels as if you’re falling through a tube, through the spatial vacuum, discovering new oddities along the way. There are enemies that are bulls. Mess with them and, yes, you get the horns, severed and flung at you like windmilling, rent helicopter blades. Actually, occasionally shooting at what looked like the Chicago Bulls logo did feel a bit out of place.
TxK is tunnel shooter refinement. It’s dazzling on the Vita’s screen. bright and electric. The music is infectious and lends itself to a focused tunnel vision. And it’s occasionally disorienting in the best way. Getting that turned around becomes hypnotic and rhythmic, with TxK acting as the snake charmer.