Ever since Mario hit the scene back in the early 80's, platform games have been all the rage. Mario, Sonic, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank; titles like these are the mainstay of this industry, simply because they have such wide appeal. They're straightforward, engaging, and challenging without being too difficult, making them the type of game almost anyone can enjoy. Therefore it's no surprise that we see more and more platform games released every year. Vexx is Acclaim's answer to platform giants like Ratchet and Clank. However, unlike hit titles like Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter, Vexx is an ultimately unsatisfying game that offers absolutely no innovation.
The game opens to scenes of the world of Astara falling under the evil power of the Shadowraith Dark Yabu and his minions, who enslave the people of Astara for no apparent reason other than to be evil for evil's sake. Of course Vexx, being pure of heart and little of mind, attacks Dark Yabu, but is struck down, only to be saved by his grandfather Vargas, who dies during this feat of heroism. This infuriates Vexx, causing him to escape one night, where he stumbles upon the legendary Asanti War Talons; claw like gauntlets that grant whoever wears them incredible power. Seeing his chance for revenge, Vexx sets out on a journey to gather enough power to save the world of Astara by destroying Dark Yabu and claiming his revenge.
Graphically, Vexx is fairly good looking, offering huge levels with a good deal of variety. There are levels that resemble large swamps, rocky deserts, everglades and more. Each one has a different geographical design, but all have a weird aesthetic that makes you think the level designers were smoking some happy grass. Vexx is also very well drawn, sporting big claws and even bigger feet, with elfish ears and super spiky hair, allowing him to fit in very well with the overall scheme of things. Everything in Vexx looks good and plays smooth, with nary a jagged edge or drop in the frame rate. All in all, the graphics in Vexx are one of the high points, though that isn't saying much.
The basic gameplay in Vexx revolves around collecting wraithearts, which are scattered throughout the lands of Astara. These hearts increase Vexx's power, and he'll need them all before he can take on the evil Yabu. Each level has 8 hearts, and there are several different ways to acquire them. When you first enter a level, you'll see a screen of hearts that you can collect or already collected, and you can pick which one you wish to go after next. Each one has a little riddle that is supposed to help you solve the puzzle of acquiring that particular heart. However these riddles are so poorly written that any help they give you is no help at all. Don't worry, though, because there are huge red arrows that tell you exactly where to go, completely eliminating the need for exploration or puzzle solving. There are also simpler ways to collect these wraithearts, such as collecting 100 'shards', which are pieces of wraithearts, or six jars that hold the souls of warriors past. As you collect these hearts, you can unlock additional levels in the game, up to a total of 9. Gee, this sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yes, in case you were wondering, Vexx is a blatant rip off of Super Mario 64, right down to a T. In fact, there is really nothing that makes this game any different, from a gameplay perspective, than that famous Nintendo platformer. Apparently Acclaim had some pretty big Mario fans working on this title.
The combat in the game is fairly innovative in its own right, but unfortunately, 99.9% of the moves at your disposal are completely unnecessary. You can perform combo attacks, jumping attacks, juggling attacks, and more. However, the 'rage' attack makes all these completely unneeded. To perform a rage attack, all you need to do is hit the square button repeatedly, and even the most difficult foes will fall with ease.
The control in the game is solid for the most part, but some of the actions, such as wall jumping and scaling ledges, are inconsistent, leading to a lot of cheap deaths at crucial points in the game. In addition, the analog control isn't very effective when controlling Vexx; if you're not walking, you're running. There is no in between, which can cause some problems.
The sound in Vexx is great, if entirely out of context. Most of the tracks in the game are really well done, but they don't do much to compliment the level you're playing in. It's almost as if the tracks were chosen because they sounded cool, not because they fit with the overall design. However, since the music is quite good, it can still be enjoyable for the most part. As for sound effects, there aren't many, and none of them stand out as being particularly good or noticeably bad. They're just there, and you'll be lucky to notice most of them without specifically looking for them.
With crisp graphics, completely derivative gameplay, and control and sound that are, at best, a mixed bag, Vexx ends up as a game that deserves nothing more than a rental, if that. There is nothing particularly terrible about Vexx; it's just that we've all played it before, 7 years ago. Anyone looking for a good platform game would be wise to stick with Ratchet and Clank.
3/30/2003 Ryan Hartmann