There is no doubt that the backstory of Jeff Minter is something that adds an extra layer of interest to his games. Tucked away in the Welsh countryside, Jeff and his mate spend their time coding games that ooze passion for old school arcade gaming.
On his piece of land there are plenty of animals, goats, dogs and llamas, and they have all contributed and inspired the games, and also inspired the company name - Llamasoft.
Given the green surroundings, rural life, and animals, it would be easy to think that the games would end up being family friendly and cute creations, but instead Minter has been focused on psychedelic experiences, with explosions of colours and shapes that spread out across the screen ever since the early days on Commodore 64. He's often referred to as some kind of retro modern techno hippie, but reading his blog you're instead left with the impression that he is far too immersed in his way of life to be concerned with labels.
Knowing any of this is essential to enjoying TxK, but it will answer some of the many questions you're likely to have after having played the game for the first time, especially if you're new to the Llamasoft experience.
Previous experience will also aid you on your journey to the top of the high score list. TxK is Llamasoft's fourth game inspired by Dave Theurer's classic, Tempest. The premise is the same as the classic and each stage is, as such, made up of a three dimensional level which stretches out in front of the player. Your avatar, the so called Crab, is closest to the player while all kinds of enemies try and crawl out and capture the Crab and take away a life. This can be prevented by shooting the enemies - all in all a very simple premise.
Llamasoft has found ways to fine tune their previous variations on Tempest, and with TxK they offer the most playable update of the classic we've sampled to date. It starts with the various power-ups, something that always has a positive influence on the game as it progresses.
Jump allows you to hop out of frame in order to fire on enemies that have snuck up too close. Droid gives you a small helper that happily takes on enemies you can't reach in the heat of battle. Particle Laser gives you more potent lasers. There are also power-ups to aid precision that sends bonus points rising, and then there are bonus icons that send you to dreamlike bonus levels.
Most of these elements where introduced back in Tempest 2000, but what's different now is that Llamasoft has implemented them in a way that feels better paced and more rewarding to those who have invested the time to master the game. The devastating Superzapper that recharges between every level and normally is used to clear the screen in panic, is now to much more useful for saving lives.
Now you've got a fraction of a second after having been caught to activate it, meaning you have an extra chance to squeeze out more points from each of your lives. But the Superzapper can now also be used offensively, as each enemy that is zapped gives you double points. This sets up situations that appear similar to those in Minter's Space Giraffe, where you are well advised to let the screen fill up before activating the zapper.
Whether or not you're motivated by high scores is a good way to tell whether TxK is a game for you, as it's all about maximising your score. A good thing then that the high score system is well devised. Each level gives you a score that is then added up with the other level scores for your total score, and it is only that last one that gives you your ranking. Thus you need to constantly go back and replay earlier levels in order to squeeze out more points from them. It's a simple system, but it makes for tremendous replayability.
TxK is not simply the kind of game you should pick up for its well crafted mechanics. The combination of colourful explosions, weird shapes and an extremely well-suited soundtrack also adds to the experience. Llamasoft's focus on psychedelic colours has never found a better home than on the OLED screen of the PlayStation Vita. Everything looks spectacular.
The soundtrack is the star of the show, and consists almost entirely of the sort of pumping electronic beats popular on the club scene back in 90s. It resembles trance, with a touch of breakbeat, and has absolutely zero trace of dubstep (making it surprisingly refreshing as a result). The music meshes with the graphics and quickly hurls you into that highly focused zone where everything that happens off screen is just a blur.
There are many reasons why you should treat yourself and your Vita to TxK. The gameplay is extremely sharp, the soundtrack amazing, and it's the kind of game where you always feel - just one more try and the high score is mine. The price of £5.49 and a file size of less than 100MB should be easy enough to stomach. If you own a PS Vita you should give TxK a go - for the love of llamas, for Jeff Minter and, of course, for your own sake.
The game chimes Heaven, Pleasure, Beauty and Yes, Yes, Yes! while we direct our deadly lasers through the glistening levels - and naturally we wholeheartedly agree.