Jeff Minter has been around for donkeys (llamas?) years, returning every so often with something swirlingly psychedelic, usually based upon one of the ancient arcade shooters he is obsessed by, and synonymous with. Rather than putting an irreverent animal-based, Llamasoft twist on things like he did with Space Giraffe, TxK goes straight for the jugular, meaning this is an unashamed update of Minter’s landmark Jaguar classic, Tempest 2000. Forget about the fact that this isn’t the first time old Jeff has returned to the well on a 33 year old game, because this is quite comfortably the finest version of the classic vector shooter, and proves that he can still live with the plucky young indies of 2K14.
As is the norm in the larger Tempest-verse, you control a claw-like spacecraft that moves along the outer edge of a 3D, geometric web, following the contours and with the ability to shoot projectiles towards the middle. Enemies work their way up the structure towards you, and it is your job to use your weapons to pick them off, and employ other tricks in your arsenal to avoid death. Things begin simply, with basic, slow moving critters easily dispatched, and power ups easy to collect as they fly towards you. But the further you progress, the more diverse the enemies become, and the more difficult it is to negotiate the increasingly more complex playing fields.
Power-ups increase your weaponry, award you the helpful companion droid first seen in Tempest 2000, or allow you to jump temporarily away from the structure to dodge enemies or their ordnance. You are also given a smart bomb, which you can employ as a desperation measure when your craft gets snatched into the vortex by a baddie, or just drop when the screen is chock full of enemies, triggering off a tasty x2 score multiplier in the process. To keep things interesting, every level sees you begin from scratch, with nothing in the way of increased weapon power or robot buddies.
Between levels you get the opportunity to play a mini-game where you use the Vita gyro to guide your craft through a series of goals to boost your points tally. An even more trippy bonus stage can be unlocked by collecting Warp Triangles – placing you in another ring-traversing situation, as Tempest takes a turn for the NiGHTS. The main game has 100 levels, which wont be beaten easily. A continue option allows you to begin from the last level you reached, but with less lives. There is also Survival mode, which allows you to run the gauntlet of the stages with a sense of utter finality when you lose your last life.
As you would expect, Minter has produced a game that is glorious to look at and listen to – a neon-lit psychedelic cascade of vectors, explosions, particles and dancing phenomena unfolds before you as a constantly evolving, and it has to be said, superb techno soundtrack underpins the action. The Vita really is the perfect console for this eye-popping spectacle, the screen more than doing justice to the software.
In fact, the entire package is put together with humour, warmth and class – it straddles the geeky retro chic that is so popular with indies right now, but also manages to drag an elderly game firmly into the present day with trophies, leaderboards, and intuitive choice of hardware. Immediately you know you are playing a Llamasoft title, because it will throw a crazy, nonsensical phrase at you from the get-go. But then you play the game and realise that it doesn’t feel like something that was originally conceived in 1981.
VERDICT: In that respect it deserves just as much credit as something like Geometry Wars, which borrowed from another ancient arcade game and made the twin stick shooter a valid concern again. It proves that Minter is still very much relevant, and capable of hitting the same kind of highs that he did in the early days of home micros, and during the days of the cursed Atari Jaguar – and this makes me very happy indeed.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.