Review By: Siou
Card, Pro Logic II
Once upon a
time, not so very long ago, there was quite a hubbub about the
latest release in Nintendo’s pet franchise: the one, the only,
Mario Sunshine. Now that some time has passed and
youthful fans (and cynical ad execs) have had ample time to milk
it for all it’s worth, and run the popular children’s
platformer straight into the ground, Acclaim is playing the odds
that people will be looking for something else along the same
comes in the form of Vexx, a tough little hedgehog-like
creature with Wolverine-style metal talons who seems to have a
lot more than a phony, poorly done Italian accent going for him.
While this may seem a bit strange and harder edged than the
usual N64-era preteen Mario audience would be accustomed to,
Acclaim is hoping this odd hybrid will draw in both the Super
Mario Sunshine crowd and more mature gamers. Most of
these mature gamers rightly feel the Mario franchise (at least
since the days of 8 bit) is for kids and want a bit more of an
edge to their gaming experience.
"plot", such as it is, is the ultimate in cheese. One
day a group of evil beings who follow the word of
"the Dark Yabu" (ahem) overthrew the world of Vexx and
his people. Captured along with his grandfather, the aging
"guardian of Overwood", Vexx sees his fellow villagers
either imprisoned or murdered. Unable to stand it any longer (picture
William Shatner getting worked up: I…just…can’t…STANDITANYMORE!")
Vexx escapes due to the sacrifice of his grandfather. In his
flight, Vexx just happens to stumble across the "legendary
Astani War Talons". With them, Vexx somehow suddenly has
the power to stop the Dark Yabu and avenge his people. Riiiight.
The bottom line is, if we are to go by the intro, Vexx is
nothing more than D&D for kids with their brains
sufficiently addled by the pernicious influence of Disney. We
are presented with a positively painful overwrought
intro, read earnestly by some crappy children’s author over
Disney-style cheese animation, telling a Baldur’s Gate
style story of…well, absolutely nothing; but you just know somebody’s
going to end up gushing ecstatically about how deep and profound
this crap is. Yabu yabu!
make it through this tomfoolery without immediately heading for
the place of purchase to demand a refund, the first thing the
intrepid gamer has to deal with doesn’t exactly clear the
waters. A Crash Bandicoot style training level finds Vexx’s
human counterpart learning his/her chops to the accompaniment of
some ridiculously incongruous, tacky "dramatic"
Hollywood music. I guess the closest parallel I can come up with
is the late Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, but that was
far, far better than this dross). Doubtless, a fair portion of
the game’s intended audience has by now given up on it, or
skipped through in disgust, but hold: more adventure awaits!
nine playable worlds in Vexx; each split into several
levels/areas. In each of these, your goal is to find a rather
Fulcian beating heart (complete with severed arterial
extensions, and pulsating rather grotesquely for an ostensible
children’s platformer). Apparently, these "shadowraith"
hearts are necessary to help power various portals that allow
you access into other worlds. Basically this is a fancy way of
saying that you can’t get to the next level without reaching
said level’s goal – like the rest of the game, a bunch of
fancy BS attempting to put a glossy sheen on the bland
averageness of what amounts to a very standard platformer).
Unfortunately, most of the hearts are located fairly proximate
to each other, so you end up running the same paths over and
over. As one might expect, this sort of thing tends to make the
levels a bit repetitive.
that all platformers, since the onslaught of the N64, fall under
the curse of the spastic drunken camera, and Vexx is no
exception. During certain sequences the camera will track Vexx
fairly well, but God help you if you have to pass too close to a
wall or need to adjust your view for a tough jump. This is when
the camera will decide to spin wildly and rotate or sweep
circuitously at all sorts of bizarre angles, pointing your view
anywhere but where the game dictates you actually need to
see. Much like my favorite seasick platformer, Castlevania 64,
manually adjusting the camera only corrects the view to where
you want it for a half second, before spinning back to it’s
previous inane view (or in some cases, an even worse one).
the opening animation there are few scenes in Vexx
involving any voice acting at all, which is a good thing, since
said voice acting isn’t exactly top notch. Mercifully, once
the cut scenes end, all you hear is Vexx grunting as he works
his way through each level. Tech geeks with state of the art
sound systems should be ecstatic to hear that Vexx
supports Dolby Pro Logic II, so you can hear him grunt at you in
5.1. WOW! Sign me up, quick!
Like all too
many games in current release, Vexx would have been
considered a great looking game, if it were released a year or
two ago, on the N64 or even Dreamcast. As a Next-Gen platformer,
Vexx just doesn’t hold up. Graphically speaking the
game looks OK, for the genre, but there’s little significant
improvement over such N64 favorites as Conker. Some nice
graphic touches here and there (water, the rippling haze effect
of the portals, akin to the "behind the mirror" effect
in John Carpenter’s fascinating Prince of Darkness),
rather than setting the standard, appear to have been thrown in
to spice up the dross of the overall layout, feel, and character
design. Granted, the frame rate runs a bit smoother, and there
are a few technical upgrades (such as said shimmering portals),
but there’s nothing here to write home about. One neat thing
about Vexx (you knew there had to be something,
didn’t you?) is that you’re able to change the time of day
in the game. Again, it’s not particularly significant (nothing
wonderful happens based on the time of day), but it’s fun to
see how the landscape and monsters change once it becomes night.
actually get going in Vexx (which takes longer than you
might suppose), you’ll probably start to enjoy the game a
great deal if you were interested enough to purchase or rent it
in the first place. Unfortunately, one of the first hearts to be
retrieved is in an area that requires a lot of jumping and
perfect timing (mind you, this is in conjunction with the queasy
camerawork we discussed earlier). Let me warn you, falling to
the bottom of the level (or damn close to it) a few too many
times right off the bat will make you seriously consider whether
to dump the game before you even really get started. Vexx
goes from challenging to frustrating far too early in the game,
thereby running a very high risk of turning people off
(especially younger gamers). If you persevere, the next levels
will fly by with little trouble and the game will seem fun
again. And this, while a bit extreme in throwing down the
gauntlet so early on, seems to be a problem with a few too many
games lately. Developers appear more interested in making
something extremely difficult and frustrating rather than fun
and diverting (the sign of a true geek – making everything
incomprehensible and useless to anyone who’s not
"hardcore" or an "insider"). And all things
considered, they’d better watch out, lest they get their wish.
If the trend continues, there won’t be any audience left but
the "hardcore insiders". And a couple of hundred
computer nerds slapping each other on the back between snorts do
not a profit make.
aren't bad - fairly responsive
- The cameras.
Perfectly horrible computer-misdirected camera nausea makes
movement in spots requiring any sort of precision extremely
- Nothing like
anthropomorphism. A cast of monkeys, boars, and squirrels. Can you
introductory cutscenes. Beyond what I mentioned earlier, Vexx
contains some of the worst voice acting ever (and yes, that
includes Shenmue). My favorite was "Old Darby"
(Darby Crash, he ain't) – some 35 year old yuppie talking out
the corner of his mouth in a sad attempt to approximate the
intonations of the aged. His disembodied head threatens to
accompany you throughout the course of the game, reappearing
periodically lest you miss his endearing presence and doubtless
Oscar-winning performance. Thankfully, at least in my game thus
far, I never caught sight of the sorry bastard again. Good
riddance, I tell you!
- The sound. In
keeping with an annoying cinematic trend, the dialogue is kept
relatively low, while the moronic sound effects you could do
without are jacked to earsplitting, floor shaking levels. It’s
clear Acclaim thought they had a real epic on their hands here.
once-freakish heights of popularity of the platformer have
plummeted in recent years due to some pronounced graphical
innovations better showcased in other, more "realistic"
genres. Unfortunately, the 3D platformer has failed to follow
suit; some decidedly minor, halfhearted efforts to incorporate
prevailing technological standards merely seem awkward in the
bulbous, day-glow setting of what are still essentially N64 games
in the Next-Gen era. Those who cling to their earlier love of the
platform genre should enjoy Vexx. If you disregard its many
limitations and missteps, at heart, it’s a solid 3D platformer.
Where it makes
its biggest misstep is in it’s introductory cutscenes, a sorry
attempt at creating depth and a "meaningful" plot in the
wake of the recent, somewhat unexpected resurgence in popularity
of Tolkien. More reminiscent of Maximo (without the fun)
and Toejam and Earl (without the humor) than The Lord of
the Rings, this wannabe RPG for morons comes off instead like
a poor cousin to Donkey Kong Country. N64 based its entire
failed history on kids’ games like this. You’d think everyone
else, if not Nintendo themselves, would have learned from that.
The crowd that spontaneously orgasms over kindergarten-level crap
like Shrek and Monsters Inc. should enjoy this.
Everyone else over the age of 10 should steer clear.