Jeff Minter has made over 60 games in his 30 years as a developer, and yet it seems he’s spent a career remaking Dave Theurer’s tube shooter Tempest. It’s a template to which Minter appears unable to resist returning, refining its mechanics with each release to varying degrees of success. Some would cite 2007’s polarising Space Giraffe as his crowning achievement; many more would consider 1994’s Tempest 2000 the pinnacle of Minter’s back catalogue. Both may soon reconsider.
In fact, his gaudy neon aesthetic may well have found its perfect partner here. The vibrant colours Vita’s screen produces make Llamasoft’s iOS output look positively drab. The presentation is superbly crisp, those sharp edges never more apparent than at the end of a stage when the level explodes in a coruscating shower of technicolour triangles.
Broadly speaking, its systems remain the same. You traverse the outer edges of a series of geometric shapes, shooting enemies and collecting power-ups. A particle laser destroys enemies more quickly, while a jump ability allows you to leap up from the edge to escape any opponents that reach you before you can shoot them. Tap the screen to trigger a smart bomb, which can be used once per level. Tunnels carry you between stages, offering more points the closer you stay to the centre, while collecting four warp triangles unlocks a bonus stage.
While these calming changes in tempo make for a welcome breather, they can’t compare to the dizzying, feverish arcade action of the main stages. Enemies come thicker, faster and stronger as you advance, with later levels bending, folding and unpacking themselves in increasingly unpredictable ways. You’ll leap and release a hail of bullets to sweep a row of enemies from the rim like bugs from a windscreen, dodging projectiles by a whisker and grabbing power-ups that launch an AI assistant along the edges in the nick of time. There’s little of the wilful obfuscation that made Space Giraffe so divisive, and though the action occasionally gets so hectic that you’ll be killed by something you didn’t quite spot, the visual and audio cues offer enough feedback between them that you’ll know to blame yourself, rather than the game, for each death.
The result is hypnotic. This is twitch gaming at its finest, with beautifully tuned thumbstick controls and a pulsing soundtrack that only seems to focus the mind. Dynamic and wholly invigorating, TxK isn’t just one of the best games on Vita, it might be the best game Minter’s ever made.
The Supertapper bomb awards a 2x score multiplier for each hostile it kills. It’s a risk to allow enemies to encroach, but leaping up from a crowded rim and tapping as you descend is endlessly rewarding even without the bonus