Jeff Minter is, apparently, an easy developer to criticise. Whilst its all fine for one guy to dedicate the majority of their career to one particular series of games, it doesn’t seem to be okay for another guy to do the same in regards to trying to perfect the same game over a large space of time. In short, its easy to state that Minter has spent his entire career making the same game, that being his own take on the retro arcade game Tempest. Since he released Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar in 1994, Tempest X3 on PlayStation in 1996, Tempest 3000 on the “Nuon DVD” in 2000 and most recently Space Giraffe on the XBox 360 in 2007. It’s easy to overlook the vast body of work he’s worked on in his 30 years of games development because of this, and TxK won’t really help matters, as it too is a recreation of Tempest.
My only experience of these games comes from 2007’s Space Giraffe, a game I really didn’t get on with, didn’t understand and just generally found to be an over complicated cluttered mess. Some loved it though, many didn’t, and it really does seem to have divided opinion depending upon who you talk to (out of those who have even heard of it). TxK however, despite being rather similar, is very different.
The core gameplay remains the same as ever, you control ship at the bottom of the screen that runs along the bottom edge of a grid which as you progress is presented in many different shapes and sizes. Enemies work their way down from the top of said grid and its your job to stop them reaching the bottom by shooting them, if they do reach the bottom they have the ability to take away one of your Lives.
Killing waves of enemies drops a power up, collecting these results in increasing your arsenal for that level, the more you collect the more tools you have at your disposal. Initially you will have the ability to “jump” away from the grid, which is incredibly useful when things get a bit overwhelming and you have too many enemies to deal with near the bottom of the screen. Jumping sacrifices increasing your score so you have to balance using that with using your Smart bomb, which you have one of per level. The interesting thing here, over other shooters, is that TxK encourages you to use this screen clearing weapon by rewarding you with a 2x bonus for anything it wipes out. So again, its all about finding a balance between filling up the screen with enemies and using the Smart bomb at the right time or sacrificing increasing your score to clear the way to allow you to continue by jumping. Another rather helpful tool is the Drone, a little spikey ball that also runs along your rail shooting at enemies for you, meaning you have twice the fire power at your disposal.
In order to add balance and a difficulty curve to proceedings, TxK strips you of all of these power ups at the end of each level, leaving you with just your basic claw shaped ship and 3 burst laser gun. The entire premise is about amassing powerups to help increase your score, and its the score chasing element that really makes up the meat of TxK’s play. There are two core gameplay modes, Pure, which is the games key mode where you work through the game level by level, starting from the first area each and every time, and Classic Mode. In Classic Mode you are able to tackle any level you have previously cleared starting with the high-score and number of lives you began that particular level with. Each time you progress through a level in Pure mode it will check your history in Classic and see if your new score and number of lives are better than previously recorded and if so use that as your new starting point. It acts as both an excellent way to practice dealing with each levels layout (as some require some rather head scratching dexterity) and also as a differing starting point to unlock later levels.
All of this is played out with Minter’s typical visual flair, the game feels and looks like a rather impressive fireworks display played out to an incredibly fitting soundtrack that gives the player a sense of synthesia.