Developer: Acclaim Studios
Date: February 4th, 2003
Acclaim, despite putting out some stinkers in the past, occasionally scores gold with a title. Vexx is one of those golden titles. Not only does it stand up extremely well as a game, some might argue that Vexx is just as good as Super Mario Sunshine. Yes, Vexx is full of innovation, challenge, stunning architecture, lush graphics, top-notch sound, likeable characters, and, of course, fun, varying gameplay. It really is that good - but not perfect. Read on.
At the start of the game, we find Vexx and his grandfather, apparently slaves of some kind, working in the mines. When Vexx pisses off the Evil Yabu - ruler of the land - grandfather steps in. He saves his grandson, but dies himself. Vexx escapes, and vows he will avenge the death of his grandpa. He comes across a magical pair of talons - or claws, if you will - and embarks on his journey. From here, there's not much story - gameplay takes over.
There are nine distinct worlds, each so huge you could swear they were separate games. In each, there are eight to ten Wraith-hearts. Collecting these wraith-hearts is your ultimate goal, as they unlock new levels, accessible through the central hub. Okay, okay, that's all been done before - we've seen this kind of "collect some items and get new levels" idea start back in '96 with Super Mario 64. What really makes Vexx stand out, however, are the unique and challenging ways that the hearts are collected.
Every wraith-heart hidden throughout the game is represented by a riddle. These riddles, though sometimes corny, do actually give you an idea of what to do when you're stuck. There are the cliché "collect X amount of items to create a wraith-heart" goals for each stage, yes. But only two. The other hearts in every stage are cleverly hidden. Sometimes you'll have to play a minigame against Vexx's shadow-like foes. You may have to defeat a boss (after you find him, of course). Or take part in a slew of other activities. One that comes to mind takes place in a gigantic living room. There's a TV, turned off, and below it, a game system of some sort, and plugged into that is a lone controller. So, I turn on the game system, to find - nothing. The TV's not on. After searching around the room, I found a remote sitting conveniently on the sofa. I hopped on the "On" switch, and voila! We now have a game to play. I head back over to the controller and jump on the oversized analog stick. From here, I titled Vexx back and forth in order to control a simple videogame. When I won, I got a wraith-heart. Yippee! Vexx requires thinking, exploration, and skill in order to get anywhere. It's nice to actually use your head for once!
Vexx isn't all about thinking, though. This is a platformer, and there are lots of platforming segments (something that a lot of so-called platformers seem to be missing for whatever reason). These areas of the game are made fun with the excellent controls. Moving Vexx around with the left analog stick is tight and precise. Jumping is done with the 'A' button, and 'X' performs a slash. The L-trigger makes Vexx crouch. With these simple controls, a surprising amount of moves can be accomplished. Jumping and pressing 'X' in mid-air will launch a Flare Kick, and give him a little extra height. Holding L and jumping makes Vexx jump super high. Running, holding L to slide, and jumping, results in a long jump. Granted, a lot seems to be borrowed from Mario 64, but it fits very nicely and doesn't feel like it was ripped from a seven year old game.
Vexx's talons make for an interesting combat system, something you don't see too often with platformers. Timing your button presses result in different combos. There are also uppercuts. With the flare kick, as well, you can juggle enemies for long periods of time with a bit of practice. And there's a good reason to juggle them - you rack up special points much more quickly. These points are added to a little meter in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and once it's full, you may use the hidden power of the talons. You'll be able to run much faster, jump higher, and even shoot balls of energy. Sure, it doesn't last long, but it's a neat touch.
Level designs are stunning and put all of your abilities to work. Each of the nine levels are remarkably huge, with varying terrain, twisting, branching paths, bodies of water, high-flying platforms, and whatever else you can imagine. Not only are these levels huge, they contain sub-levels that are also often pretty large. There's one level with a large piano. You can actually jump into it, and inside, there's an area almost as big as the one you were just in, with you traveling on musical instruments. Bongos act like springs the more you jump on them, gaining more height with each jump. You can hop on the slider of a trombone and use it as an elevator as it moves up and down. Trumpets try to throw you off ledges with their powerful blasts of air. It's all very unique and cool.
The only thing holding the game back from an even better score is a camera that can be a nuisance at times. It's usually under your control with the right thumbstick, and it's a fair way to go about things. But occasionally, it will move itself into a fixed position, totally throwing you off and sometimes not allowing you to see just how far you are from that platform you're about to jump to. It's by no means a wonderful camera, but the faults are certainly not so terrible that it ruins the whole game.
The graphics may not be the best ever witnessed on the Xbox, but they are more than adequate. The only thing that is of slight annoyance is how the framerate will dip a little. It's more than playable, and never becomes a real problem, but I'll have you know that there is some slowdown. Everything else, however, is great. The draw distance is marvelous. You can stand at the highest point in a level and see everything that you should be able to. Meteors are flying around in the distance over the sunset, or dark night sky. Time in Vexx flows constantly, and the sky shows it. There are even nifty sundials in some levels that allow you to change the time of the day. You watch as meteors fly backwards, the sun dips back under the horizon, and you're shrouded in darkness. Nocturnal creatures take the place of daytime ones. There are so many great details in Vexx that I've hardly touched on.
Sound is also very good. There are lovely musical scores accompanying each of the levels, and they aren't so monotonous that I had the urge to mute the game. Sound effects are pretty darn good. They're especially outstanding in areas like the music sub-level I described earlier. Every tap of the drum, touch of the guitar, stomp of the cymbal, or toot of a horn is top-notch and fits perfectly. There are a few areas of the game that are a little quieter than I would have liked, but that's about it.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with Vexx. It's incredibly fun, creative, and challenging. The visuals are great. The sound is quite good. Aside from the bothersome camera and the somewhat weak framerate, Vexx is a force to be reckoned with. If you enjoy platforming games, you simply must play this game. And it's multiplatform, so no matter what system(s) you own, you can still play it. Go check it out now!