Reviewed: March 14, 2003
Reviewed by: Scott Shirhall
VEXX is a new platformer from Acclaim that will have you, pardon the pun, vexed. There are nine expansive worlds to go through and numerous puzzles to solve to complete this adventure. Vexx is named after the main character in the game and he seems to be a cross between an elf and Wolverine from the X-Men comics. Vexx acquired his Wolverine like powers during an attempt to free his land of Astara; he snuck into Yabu’s (the leader of the Shadowraiths) windship to look for a weapon to fight with. While looking for a weapon he stumbled too close to the Astani War Talons. These talons have magical powers and they attached themselves to Vexx forever thus making him the only hope for Astara.
With the talons in place, Vexx can now begin his adventure. The objective of the game is to search all of the lands in the game with the purpose of finding at least sixty Shadowraith hearts and eventually defeating Yabu thus freeing his land from evil control and also saving the imprisoned spirit of his grandfather. While this sounds like a simple task it often isn’t. During your quest you will run across numerous Minions that will attempt to stop your progress. The Minions include such creatures as Shadowcreeps, Wraith Hounds, Hulks, Puggles, Boulderdashers, Ghasts, Blast Bugs and Grimkins. While none of these Minions are very difficult to vanquish they can slow you down. Along with the Minions you see on a regular basis there are other characters like the giant and disgusting Sumo wrestler that you must defeat in some of the mini-game type portions of your quest.
The official Vexx website boasts the following features:
The gameplay in Vexx is good but not without its problems. Overall, the presentation and controls are very basic but the most perplexing factor is the non-standard and often horrible camera angles used in the game. The fighting controls are more variable than in most platform games and allow for the RPG feel to be attached to the title. Along with the controls are the creative ways in which you can interact with the game.
To best discuss the gameplay I must first start with the basics. The object of the game is to eventually defeat Yabu. To accomplish this Vexx must search the nine worlds in this game and collect Shadowraith hearts. The hearts are what are left when a Shadowraith is killed and come in whole hearts or shards of hearts that reassemble when you collect 100 of them. After finding the hearts you gain their power and you can use this power to unlock other worlds. This is accomplished by powering a portal in what is called “The Hub”. The Hub is your gateway to the various worlds. When you collect the correct amount of power from the hearts you can add the power to The Hub and then unlock additional worlds.
In order to find the Shadowraith hearts you must fight your way through various enemies, solve puzzles, fight mini-bosses and use all of Vexx’s abilities to accomplish this. Vexx’s abilities include running, jumping, swimming and climbing both walls and poles. These skills are extremely easy to master and soon you will be moving effortlessly around the massive worlds in search of hearts. The only thing that I feel takes a little more time to master are the controls in relation to the camera angle.
The camera angle in Vexx is very confusing and random. Sometimes you are looking from behind Vexx and sometimes you are at various angles to him. There is a button that centers the camera but this doesn’t always work, depending on where you are standing. The camera angles make it very difficult to collect some of the hearts because it makes it hard to complete some jumps or to see what is around the corner. There is one heart on the first level where you must climb for miles, all the while traversing narrow ramps and avoiding steam jets. After several falls because of the poor camera angle you are then expected to jump to a pole from a moving platform. This should be easy but it turns out to be a challenge because you can never seem to line yourself up with it. I got it on my third try but by then I wanted to bust my controller because when I fell the first two times I had to make the long climb all over again.
Swimming in Vexx also poses some challenges. I found it slightly difficult to guide Vexx while swimming through caverns and mazes as the camera angle often gets you turned around and gasping for air. When you are desperately searching for a much-needed gasp of air and you get stuck on a wall or turned around your frustration level will rise.
The puzzles and mini-games vary in their difficulty, which provides for a more entertaining overall experience. While traversing the terrain of the various worlds you will be presented with certain challenges in order to acquire the Shadowraith heart you are seeking. These challenges can include transforming into a lava monster and racing against a clock to release a heart that is encased in some sort of protective field or battling a large and rather disgusting Sumo wrestler for a heart. There are also things like racing on a grid in a Tron-like game against three clones of you. My favorite was playing a Breakout like game while standing on an oversized videogame controller. Whether you are fighting a mini-boss or completing a puzzle Vexx gives you plenty of variance in its gameplay.
Vexx has the kind of graphics you would expect from a platformer offering things like great lighting, special effects and an almost cartoon like feel to it. The worlds are well done and the ability to change the time of day using a giant sundial adds another layer to the game. The characters and enemies are both well drawn and animated. While the graphics are good overall, they are not without their problems and glitches.
Let’s start off with the positive aspects of the graphics as these outweigh the negatives by a lot. The textures, lighting and animation in Vexx are very good. All of these features combine to produce a very aesthetically pleasing environment. The plant life, ambient graphics and the changing time of day help to maintain the illusion that you are indeed in a fantasy world. The frame rate is, for the most part, fluid. There are some slowdowns when there are numerous animations occurring at the same time. Overall, the lush and creative environments are well drawn and as realistic as a world that doesn’t exist can be.
There are several negatives that detract immensely from the overall score and most have to do with detail. The distance you can see in the game is a big problem and the water, which seems to be everywhere, is poorly done. The problem with distance vision is a big problem and actually detracts from the gameplay. By distance vision I mean how far the horizon and field of vision extends. It seems like Vexx can see across the entire land but enemies never appear until you are almost on top of them. You will be running along a path and out of nowhere an enemy just seems to materialize. This is a bad trait and leads to some frustration. Since so much attention was paid to every other graphical detail, why was this not better? I sincerely hope that if a Vexx 2 is in the works that this issue is addressed.
The other part of the overall graphics rating that hurt Vexx is the poorly done water animation and its realism. I know this is a picky point but in a game with this much water it would be nice to be able to always be able to distinguish the water from the land. This poses the most problem when you are unfortunate enough to have a bad camera angle. More than a few times I jumped onto what I thought was dry land, only to be swept downstream and over a waterfall. With the graphics capability of the GameCube you would think this would not have been a problem.
Overall, the graphics are well done and the negatives, while fairly large ones, are few and far between. With a few minor fixes Vexx could have been a stunning game. Let’s hope its next incarnation gives us what we deserve and what the GameCube is capable of.
The sound in Vexx is really not as good as it should be. It seems like sounds and music are recycled throughout the game. Vexx and the enemies always sound the same during fights and the voice acting is not very distinctive. All of these make for a poor auditory experience.
Starting with the fighting sounds, all the sounds of battle remain the same throughout the entire game. This would not be a major problem except that is sounds like each character has three sounds and no matter what you do they repeat over and over again. Some variety or individualization here would have gone a long way.
Going in the bad column along with the fighting sounds is the voice acting. It is not that the actors did a bad job; it is that the voice acting is both boring and sometimes difficult to hear. It seems that the voices are sometimes garbled and drowned out by the music. This is not that big of a deal because in reality the storyline only seems important at the beginning or the end of the game. It is rarely a factor throughout the game as it is rarely referenced.
The music, however, is fairly well done. Each world has its own ambient music and special sound effects, which combine with the graphics to create some convincing environments. The music is a little dark for a platform game but this is to be expected, as Vexx itself is a little dark for a platform game. Both the specialized sound effects and the music add a lot to the Vexx experience.
It is hard to determine a value when discussing Vexx. While the publisher claims that there is “30 solid hours of gameplay” I would have to disagree. Vexx plays more into the 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. You could of course add another ten hours on to that time if you factor in how many times you slip up and have to start a level from the beginning.
Don’t get me wrong; there are enough levels and challenges to keep you playing Vexx for quite a while. That is if you don’t get frustrated too easily and you enjoy playing certain levels numerous times. If the camera angles were fixed I believe that Vexx would be a much more enjoyable game.
Overall, Vexx is an entertaining platformer that would appeal to the gamer that is looking for something different, but in the end it seems like a darker version of every other platform game. There is a huge potential to this game and it would probably have been better if it was transformed into a fantasy RPG and given the royal treatment. Who knows; there were problems with Summoner and Summoner 2 was totally redesigned into a surprise hit. Maybe the same could be done with Vexx.
While nothing really stands out in this game, Vexx is a solid platformer with a huge potential. The graphics and sound are sufficient and the gameplay, while hampered by an unpredictable camera system, is decent. This game is definitely not the best game you’ll ever play, but if you want a break from the traditional platform game then Vexx might be what you are looking for.