Monday, September 20, 2010

XBLIG Review - Vexis

It's been at least a couple months since I've reviewed something that doesn't require a large amount of manual dexterity. It's true, I do like a lot of my games to have that quarter-stealing hitbox-avoiding arcade feel, but I also enjoy the softer and more intellectual side of gaming. The type of game to require more brain activity than reflexes and button mashing. This one from Buckshot Games, Vexis, required so much of that squishy stuff inside my head that I ended up staring at the last puzzle for at least an hour without doing much of anything. And it was totally worth it.

Vexis is a rotating screen puzzle game, much like XBLIG Rotor'scope or XBLA Lazy Raiders, where the objective is to get a white block to a stationary black goal. To do this, you'll be moving the screen around 90 degrees at a time and letting gravity move the block for you. Incredibly simple idea that requires all of two buttons (rotate left and rotate right), so the rest of the game revolves around the level design and your rusty hat-rack of a brain.

When I booted the game up, I half expected the opening music from Nintendo's original NES sports classics like Baseball and Tennis. The game looks like it was made in 1985, but in a sort of classy way like Clu Clu Land rather than like, say, the E.T. Atari game. Whether it was to appeal to a retro-loving crowd or for ease of design, I'll may never know, but it does two things. One, the simplicity makes it incredibly easy to know where blocks will go once you rotate the screen and, two, it doesn't distract. Two very important features when your mind and the puzzle at hand are the only things that matter. The single song featured in the game is kind of catchy at first and forgettable later on when your eyes are melting from looking at the same puzzle extended periods of time. All in all, the presentation is simple, effective, and professional. I approved.

I won't bother you too much with the controls, but it is good to note that the bumpers, triggers, AND face buttons all rotate the field. Good if you want specific options, but bad if you're like me and just start angrily gnawing on your controller when you can't figure things out.

Obviously, in a game like this, the level design and amount of puzzles are the two key ingredients that decide whether or not this is a worthwhile game. First, the level design. The first set of puzzles are your most basic and straightforward ones in the game. Nothing moving, nothing disappearing, and nothing that's too far beyond a little trial and error. That is, until we get to the second set. Many of the blocks in this set appear and then disappear in a set rhythm, forcing you to not only think ahead but also have decent timing with your movements. I'm usually not a huge fan of needing timing in games like these, but I found myself enjoying the extra challenge. Speaking of challenge, there's the third and final set of puzzles. These puzzles have blocks that repeatedly count down from three. When they get to zero, they fall whatever direction gravity takes them or stay put if they're already resting on something. This mechanic causes the blocks to be used as both road blocks and as stepping (or stopping) stones to reach places you normally couldn't. It's in these puzzles where I found the challenge, the design, and the fun to all come together perfectly. Even that last puzzle, which ended up taking two hours for something that can be completed in 30 seconds, filled me with a sense of joy that only a difficult yet brilliant puzzle can.

If you don't end up spending that much time on the last puzzle, the game's two dozen puzzles are over within 90 minutes or less with next to no replay value. I actually wouldn't consider this to be any sort of negative if it wasn't for the fact that I really wanted more of the last set of puzzles. They really were great pieces of design that I wish filled the game rather than signaled its end. But for a buck, I enjoyed my time with Vexis and can easily recommend it to any fan of puzzle games.

Vexis from Buckshot Games is available on XBox Live for 80 MSP. Played game to completion, felt like a huge idiot on the last puzzle. Especially since I went back to it a couple days later with a fresh mind and solved it within three minutes. Seriously, I looked like this guy:


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