Scan your eyes over this list of recently released games and ask yourself what they have in common: Ratchet & Clank, Sly Raccoon, Dr Muto, Haven, Ape Escape 2, Treasure Planet, Jinx, Rayman 3, Blinx, Mario Sunshine, Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, Pac Man World 2, ToeJam & Earl III, and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. Unless you're really out of touch, you'll have certainly have noted that they all involve object collection and platforming, and all have been born to the world since October 2002. Now say hello to latecomer Vexx and try to look the snub-nosed intruder in the eye without spitting contempt in his stupid generic face.
If it was customary to be cruel and rude to newcomers, then Vexx would and should be given the kind of welcome reserved for American backpackers in the The Slaughtered Lamb. It's perhaps ironic that this 'kid with attitude' is thirsty for revenge, because that's exactly what we want to wreak upon Acclaim Austin for producing possibly the laziest, most uninspired platformer we've had the misfortune to witness in the next-gen era.
It's hard to know where to start in pinpointing which is the biggest disappointment in this turgid excuse for a game. While we sharpen our metaphorical knives, let us at least run through the basics, should you be even remotely interested. Hang on, you can probably guess already. If we can unearth a single original or well-implemented idea, we'll be sure to let you know about it.
Terrifying, but only in a dull way
Apart from the splendid Sony-backed efforts of late, stories in platform games are generally shocking sub-infant school nonsense. But not only is Vexx's tale of revenge against the Shadowraiths an irrelevant, terrifyingly dull way to start the game (plus the majority of the voiceovers are drowned out), there's virtually no attempt made to explain what you're doing thereafter.
When you're first thrust into the game via a short tutorial (short because there's sod all to learn), young Vexx can dish out punishment to those who dare cross his path via a pair of mean-looking claws that have arbitrarily been fused onto the ends of his arms. A basic slash attack can be performed by tapping square three times, L1 and square deals an uppercut, X plus L1 performs a jump and slam 'Ground Blast', while X plus square performs a Flare Kick. Jump is assigned to X, while a longer jump can be pulled off by tapping L1 just before hitting X. And apart from the ability to climb and swim, that's about all you need to know throughout the game, with no power-ups or extra abilities added later on. Hmmm. Why did no-one point out that gamers like new toys as an incentive to progress?
Enemies are astonishingly uninspired drones that draw/spawn before your very eyes thanks to a curious framerate saving mechanic, and can be dispatched with the minimum of fuss. There is a pointless combo system that allows you to juggle the enemy in the air, but why bother when stabbing the square button does just as good a job? It's this kind of slackness that fails to draw the player into Vexx from the off.
How about considering the opposition?
Just as disappointing is the alarmingly lacklustre graphics engine. Although the main character is reasonably well detailed and animated, the rest of the package feels like some throwback to the ugly pop-up ridden, low textured early PS2 era. You guide Vexx through a game world so uninspired you wonder whether Acclaim even looked at the extremely stiff competition in the early stages of development. Wandering up to any wall, rock or item of scenery, it's clear that the engine should have been drowned at birth, being unable to inject any credibility into your generic surroundings. To add insult to injury, the levels are floating platforms (inspired, eh?), meaning one slip and it's a life down the drain. And with just five lives at your disposal, the Game Over screen will be flashing up before you know it.
Game Over screens in platform games are annoying enough as it is (especially when you're forced to wait for a lengthy reload to resume), but the game refuses to auto save until you find one of the level's hearts, and thus meaning you lose every single shard you've tirelessly picked up on that stage.
And it's hearts that you're after. It's Vexx's equivalent of Mario Sunshine's Shines or Jak & Daxter's Orbs, and yet another crushingly generic feature that requires the player to hunt for them before other levels in the hub will open up. The ability to change the levels from day to night sounds like a vaguely interesting idea, but merely opens portals, or makes enemies harder. Not exactly a thrilling prospect to change the face of gaming as we know it.
En route, you'll encounter an odd collection of mini-bosses (why the fug is there a Sumo wrestler sitting atop a big rock on the first level, and why does he feel the need to guard a heart?), and the occasional mini-game breaks up the tedium, but it's no Ratchet & Clank. Every level thereafter is much the same in its randomness, and you're expected to suss out what's going on with no direction from the game whatsoever.
We wouldn't want to play you if you were the last platformer on Earth
If none of the previously mentioned games had been released, Vexx would still struggle to impress us. The whole package feels utterly unfinished, and its troubled development history screams out at you. But it's only when you size up Vexx against the sizeable, quality opposition (especially on the PS2) that it become alarmingly apparent how far down the pecking order this comes. In all honesty, even average fodder like PacMan World 2 and Ty The Tasmanian Tiger piss over Vexx from a great height.
If you've skipped to the final paragraph looking for a quick assessment, then here it is: Vexx is a charmless, shoddy, unfinished, unplayable mess and does nothing that a dozen other games haven't done infinitely better. If you're going to try and compete in an overpopulated genre, at least make it stand out.