Genre: Arcade shooter
tl;dr - Do you like psychedelic visuals with a thumping soundtrack?
If you have speakers or headphones, I'd like to issue a challenge.
Load up the video below(it's a link to one of the songs from the game) and then come back to the review and keep reading while you listen to the song:
If you're not pumped about this game by the time the song ends, then don't bother with TxK and don't bother reading the rest of my review. I figure I might as well save us both some time.
Moving ahead: I didn't buy TxK because I'm a fan of Tempest. TxK - by the way - is the 4th game in the Tempest "series". I played the original one a long, long time ago and thought it was pretty neat, but it certainly isn't a game from my childhood that stands out as anything special. In the interim, there have been a few other Tempest games (specifically, Tempest 2000, which is held up as some sort of cult classic, apparently) but I never bothered.
Nor did I buy TxK because I'm a fan of Jeff Minter. He's actually made a lot of games over the years, all of them weird, and pretty much all of the psychedelic. While I can respect his career, he isn't someone I heard of until...well...until TxK.
I bought TxK because it embodies the pure essence of the arcade era, where games were both fun and challenging, where games felt like an "experience" and not because they had a great story, but because they mesmerized you. TxK is nothing special if you want a modern game with modern amenities. There is little more than an online scoreboard in the way of online functionality. There aren't bonus ships or secret bosses or extra weapons to find. There aren't challenge modes or a long list of achievements. The game is 100 levels of nothing but arcade shooting (with some slower-paced bonus levels thrown in for good measure).
In a way (and this is going to sound really weird) TxK is like a no-frills racing game. I'm not very good at racing games, but there are those moments when you're flying down the road, hitting every turn perfectly, screaming past your opponents, dodging obstacles, and you have a moment of "zen" where it all comes together and feels really good. It doesn't feel good because you got a powerful power-up, pulled off a combo, or leveled up your character. It feels good because it just...feels good. And TxK isn't even a racing game, but that's the closest comparison I can make.
The gameplay - if you've never played or heard of Tempest - is basically like an old-school shooter in the same vein as Galaga or Space Invaders. Enemies fly at you and you need to shoot them and avoid their shots as they come closer and closer. However, unlike Space Invaders and Galaga, TxK takes place on a "ribbon" or a "tube". Instead of just travelling left-to-right (like in Space Invaders) you might be travelling around the rim of a cylinder, or a box, or an "s" shape, or a "v" shape. And in later levels, these shapes twist and flex, adding to the challenge.
Visually, everything is done in vector graphics. I would recommend looking up screenshots or watching a gameplay video (a link is provided later in the review) to make a decision on whether you like this style. It's very old-school, yet everything is perfectly crisp and the game runs at a smooth 60 frames (looks gorgeous on the Vita OLED).
The twirling landscapes are something to behold. It never got to the point where it was "too trippy" to still enjoy the game, but there's some crazy stuff going on in this game, and there are some levels that are a lot of fun simply because they're rotating and folding in on themselves, all while enemies are flying at you. Please try to watch a gameplay video before buying, because the visuals in TxK certainly aren't for everyone and it might even make certain people's eyes sore.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the game is the soundtrack. It's about as '80s as something can be without being banned from the market. It's chock-full of synth bass and pulsing techno drums and blips and beeps and melodic strings. Most songs are very upbeat, but others are very mellow (one song even reminded me of the "space" music from Star Control II). If the '80s aren't your thing, then they aren't your thing, but I love the goofy, quasi-futuristic, bob-your-head-to-the-beat sort of attitude this game has. Though they're in two totally different genres with completely different gameplay styles, TxK feels a bit similar to Hotline Miami (which also had twitch gameplay and '80s-inspired music).
It's kinda hard to review this game. It's not as simple as saying "this game has such-and-such, therefore it is a good game". I mean, I can try. This game has a fantastic soundtrack, therefore I think it's a good game. Hmmm, or I could try another: this game is very challenging while at the same time never being unfair. Okay, that was pretty good. Let's try one last one: this game is a visual treat to watch in motion.
But still...it doesn't do the game justice. It's a dang fun game that has kept me hooked nearly non-stop since I bought it earlier in the week. As evidence of my devotion, I'm already in the Top 75 worldwide for high score. Kinda neat, but the high score isn't why I'm playing the game.
Maybe it's nostalgia. I've been a gamer for a really long time and as I grow older, I'm far more susceptible to videogames that prey upon my fond gaming memories. Then again, as I said above, I've never really been a giant fan of Tempest, so I'm not sure it's simply nostalgia.
I can't put my finger on it. I guess what sells me on this game is how everything comes together into a complete package, a package that isn't very modern and probably could've been released 15 years ago. It's the little things that combine to make the experience a treat. It's the way that synthesized voice says "Pleasure". It's the way the entire level disintegrates when you beat it. It's the frantic way you spin around the rim of the playing field. It's the color, the thumping beat, and that high score at the top of the screen. This game is what arcades were once all about.
There are Trophies, of course, and some seem rather difficult to obtain. The Vita controls offer several different options, but thankfully neither the gyroscope nor the touch controls are shoehorned in.
Below is a gameplay video (although the video doesn't do the crispness and smooth framerate of the actual Vita version any justice)
Some people just don't like arcade-style games. Some people need a story, or experience levels, or multiple characters. TxK is not that sort of game. It's a pure arcade game, through and through. If that sparks your interest (and by now you've already finished listening to the song, so good job sticking with it thus far) then you can safely purchase TxK knowing you're getting a fantastic arcade experience.
If you're looking for much more than that, then TxK really isn't okay for you, and I'm okay admitting that TxK isn't a game for everyone. It's a game for those kids who stood in a neon-lit room, staring wide-eyed at those mind-bending arcade games with colorful graphics and synthesized soundtracks.