Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed as we search through the more… forgotten… parts of history.
A quality non-Nintendo platform game has always been difficult to come by. The key to a good platformer is creative, clever level designs, which have helped a certain mustached Italian plumber ascend to one of the most popular video game characters ever. These days platform games are much less popular than they were ten years ago, and so anything not named Super Mario or Banjo-Kazooie tends to disappear from memory. Vexx was one such game that in early 2003 attempted to make a name for itself. Acclaim wanted to launch a franchise that would rival Super Mario, but of course, hindsight tells us this didn’t happen. Not to say Vexx was a terrible game. In fact, it did some things so brilliantly that it’s a shame it’s not better than it is.
The movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is well-known for an opening sequence that piles obstacle after obstacle for Indiana Jones to avoid. At its best, Vexx acts as the Raiders of the Lost Ark of the video game world. There are moments when the game piles platform after platform, which may sound dreadful, but is in fact exhilarating. Imagine the excitement and tension of jumping a long series of platforms wondering when it will ever end (or maybe I just have problems). Vexx also has some moments of creative genius. In one section of the game, you jump into a piano only to find yourself inside a twisted, psychedelic world where you must jump from one gigantic instrument to another. My favorite moment transforms the game into a side-scroller as you jump inside giant murals. These were the kinds of moments that caused a part of me to fall in love with Vexx. I couldn’t stop playing out of hope Vexx would yet again blow me away. Yet, like all bad relationships, the bad outweighed the good.
While Vexx was certainly inspired at times, it was far from an original game. It heavily borrowed elements from the platform genre, such as huge levels stuffed with collectible items and the same jump moves you’ve used again and again. Like Super Mario 64, it doesn’t rely heavily on special abilities or teaching Vexx a plethora of moves, which is a good thing. Vexx himself is a voiceless hero, like many others in platformers. Acclaim wanted somebody as charismatic as Mario, and somehow ended up with a creature that’s a cross between an elf and Wolverine. The claws suggest plenty of climbing and, yes, plenty of combat. The combat is the game’s biggest downfall.
My fondest memories of the Super Mario and Banjo-Kazooie games do not involve combat. Yet Vexx places a very heavy emphasis on combat, but fails to do a good job at it. Vexx can slash his enemies, much like Mario (in Super Mario 64) could punch and kick his enemies, but where Mario’s enemies generally took one whack to defeat, the enemies in Vexx can take five or six. With so many enemies in each level, the combat becomes endless and pointless. Eventually I just tried my best to avoid them. The only thing you get out of killing enemies is health, which you probably lost while fighting them. Having to put up with such tough enemies only serves to make exploration that much more tedious. Bosses are even worse than the regular enemies; except for an encounter with a jiggly sumo wrestler, there is absolutely no creative thought put into them. Every boss requires you to use the same strategy of avoid its attack until it tires out so you can counterattack. This is a shame because, along with level design, boss fights are supposed to be among the highlights of a good platform game.
Vexx was a cross-platform release, and it fared best on the Playstation 2 and worst on the GameCube. The PS2 and Gamecube had their share of great platform games, but the Xbox, not so much. If you own an Xbox and love platform games, Vexx is actually among the better choices (yep, slim pickings). It ranks behind the likes of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee and Blinx: Time Sweeper, but ahead of Voodoo Vince, Malice, and Tork: Prehistoric Punk. If you want a taste of the few brilliant moments Vexx has to offer, well, you can get a used copy pretty cheap, but you might not want it.
Your journey doesn’t stop here, undertaker. More plots in the Graveyard await…