If there’s one serious problem the platforming genre has always faced, it’s a total lack of originality. Back in the days of the SNES, pretty much every platforming game looked and played like Mario. They all had you engaging in sidescrolling levels where you jumped on enemies to kill them and collected power-ups to give you extra powers, all so you could save some lazy-ass princess who, for some reason, always got kidnapped by the same damn evil villain. Fast-forward to present day and guess what? We’re still following the example our fat Italian plumber set for us. Now though, instead of having sidescrolling platforming levels, we have 3D levels that always seem to engage you in some stupid scavenger hunt that is hardly any fun.
It’s because of this trend that the new wave of platformers that are hitting next-generation consoles are such a breath of fresh air. Games like Ratchet & Clank and Super Mario Sunshine have shook the genre up with their new ideas and innovative designs that, while still sporting some scavenger hunt elements, rely a lot more on other, more creative platforming ideas.
One game that looked like it was going to blaze it’s way onto the scene along with the aforementioned titles was Vexx, a game from Acclaim that, in previews, promised to be a dramatic departure from the run-of-the-mill platformer. Unfortunately, though the game does have quite a few redeeming bits, the general lack of originality found in Vexx keeps it from being anything out of the ordinary… or remarkable for that matter.
The game’s first pitfall is its plot. Though Acclaim promised that Vexx would have a very dark plot, such is not the case. The game’s introductory sequence only vaguely explains the story: Vexx’s home planet is taken over by an evil space alien race. His family is killed and in anger, Vexx vows to take back what was taken from him. This hazy explanation of plot points keeps up as the game carries on, as what should be major plot developments are crippled by poor cutscenes that fail to be interesting in any way.
Fortunately, the gameplay fares far better than the game’s plot. Though Vexx really isn’t anything new, it does do a good job at what it attempts. The levels are very creative. All of them are wide open and have plenty of areas to explore. The challenges the game presents are also very cool. Thanks to some clever designing, the challenges are as varied as they are fun, and manage to stay fresh pretty much throughout the entire game.
Some parts of the game do fail to impress though. Take the boss battles for example. Though the game does offer a few bosses that are challenging enough to be fun, for the most part the boss battles are so rudimentary that they quickly become a bore. The game’s camera is quite the monster too. Almost never at an angle that would be helpful, and always requiring tweaking to get a good angle, the camera is simply atrocious and ultimately does a good job of taking some of the fun out of Vexx.
The game’s save system only adds to Vexx’s woes, as it only saves after you complete certain objectives. This auto-save feature wouldn’t be that much of a problem if it wasn’t for the grand nature of Vexx’s worlds, where it can sometimes take upwards of ten to twenty minutes to get to where a challenge is. This becomes a problem when you can’t beat the objective so when you start the game again in your next play cycle, you have to travel all the way back to the objective you were just at. Make no mistake, the lack of a save-anywhere feature in Vexx will get on your nerves.
The best feature in Vexx has to be the game’s graphics. The first time you set eyes on one of the game’s many levels, you’ll instantly fall in love. The art design is awesome, as the developers seemed to really strain themselves to make environments that were unique looking. The visual effects are also drool-worthy, and the silky smooth animations are also up to snuff. If there’s one problem with the graphics though, it’s that at times it will get dark, really dark, to the point where it hampers your ability to complete the game’s objectives. Still though, the rest of Vexx, graphics-wise, is awesome, so this small annoyance isn’t much in the grand scheme of things.
Now, if we could just say the same thing about the audio, we’d be in business. Though the game’s music is a high point, meshing a techno/orchestra score extremely well, for the most part the audio is pretty drab and does little to really enhance the game playing experience. The voice acting is nothing out of a Disney movie, as the game’s characters talk with so little emotion you could swear you were hearing slasher movie acting. The one slightly not-so-rotten apple is the game’s sound effects, which are very fitting, although some of the sound bytes get really repetitive after you’ve the game for a good while.
Vexx is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill platformer. Though the level design and beautiful visuals are something to admire, the audio, plot and general lack of originality leaves something to be desired. If you’re in dire need of a platforming fix and you’ve already beaten all the big titles, you might want to check Vexx out. Who knows, you might find something you like.