Friday, December 23, 2022

Vaxine (1990)

Publisher:US Gold
Developer:The Assembly Line
Time:1 hour
Won:No (55W/56L)

From the people who brought you Cybercon III comes an earlier FPS. A sentence that bodes extremely well. Much like a particularly vile dose of medicine, I found it better to simply get it over and done with sooner rather than later. Hall of Light claims this is a sequel to Asteroids-esque puzzle game The Game of Harmony, but that has no story and this only slightly more so. Both involve colored balls, but that's it.

Its the 24th century, and medical technology has advanced. An experimental technology allows someone to shrink down and directly gun down every virus in a human body. You, Knight-Commander Rynge, are to save the President. You see, despite the economy being bad and the Russians buying back Alaska, we're going to save him, because the vice-president is worse. Why is he ill? Apparently Anarcho-Syndacilist-Nihilist Terrorists put something in his morning cocoa. Hey, did you know The Assembly Line is British? It definitely has that whiff of British humor, well, bad British humor about it. This story and the title have very little to do with the contents of the game.

The game starts and...that is eye watering. Its a very weird game. I was not prepared for that. Its also surprisingly simple to control. You always face this direction, but otherwise it moves normally. Hold the joystick/arrows/mouse in a direction and you go in that direction. Otherwise you have shoot and change ammo. You have to match your ammo to shoot specific kinds of colored balls. A simple objective. So how did they mess it up? The way you shoot.
Mess is a harsh word, because without it, this is an overly simple game. Your shots fly in an arc and move slowly. Enemies, in turn, bounce around and move slowly. Bonus, you can choose whether or not the game includes inertia from your movement in aiming the shots. This is entirely a game of physics and as such this feels above my skillset. I can lead my shots or lead grenades...but leading bouncing balls against other bouncing balls? Irrespective of what I feel about the game, this is something that appeals to a specific group of people and it absolutely succeeds. The questions is if it works outside of those people.

Before I get into the meat of things, I note I played the DOS version, the Amiga version was slightly better. Slightly. Its really only a minor control improvement, otherwise the game is effectively the same between DOS and Amiga. There's no in-game music and barely any in-game sound, so that's not a reason. The issue I had with the Amiga version I put down purely to laziness on my part, I think the copy protection was poorly cracked in the copy I found, and all the colored balls had the same color, so the key aspect of the game was missing.

Each level goes like this, you start off with a bunch of stars spinning around in a circle. Hit one with the right color ball and you get more ammo for that ball. Hit it with the wrong color ammo and you get slightly less, but still more ammo for that color. You can't game the system by shooting a color you're low on with a color you're high on, you just get more ammo of the color the star is. This is the only way to get more ammo, and if you run out, its game over. Fortunately you can create more stars by shooting the wrong color balls at enemies. In theory, anyway.

Sometimes its not very helpful
After getting through these, and sometimes during getting through these, a word appears on-screen, either ahead, back, left or right. This is the game's psychic radar. It was really weird the first time you see it, because when I was seeing that the game had one, it didn't really click what it was until you see it in action. At the start its not terribly useful, but when you're hunting down stranglers, it is quite helpful.
The hunt is on for cells suspiciously shaped like balls. Moving around is fun. The player is weighty, starting off slow, building up momentum, before getting to truly dizzy heights. Slowing down, while ruining the gameplay a bit, has a good feel to it. Moving around is quite smooth. Feels kind of like playing one of those screensavers from the '90s that came with Windows. It looks great, but is it ever eye-straining.
Shooting down the balls is interesting. You're offered the option of inertia or no inertia, that is whether or not your shots are affected by your movement. I tried it on and off and on works better, because aiming in this game is hard. You probably already get that to a certain extent, since hitting a moving target with a slow moving projectile is tricky. But in case this hasn't sunk in, you're always shooting from the same place, even if momentum has an effect on it. They're also not just endlessly bouncing around, they have a degree of AI. But that doesn't really kick in until...

The balls connect to one another, creating a network of them. This doesn't make the game easier, quite the opposite, these are harder to hit. Each individual ball affects the momentum of all of them, so one hitting the ground causes all of them to move. I swear these guys are trying to dodge my shots too. I for the life of me cannot hit these guys, they're just too hard.

It gets worse if a network of balls connects to one of your bases. See, in this game the player is completely invulnerable, he just has to protect bases, which are balls on the ground, and not run out of ammo. But the problem in hitting the balls attacking your base is that they get low to the ground. Your weapon shoots in an arc, up from about the center of the screen, and is already hard to aim. You probably already know the pain of trying to hit something below the arc of a weapon before, in side-scrollers, its worse in 3D space.

The GUI is kind of weird. You get a number indicating how many enemy balls of whatever color your currently selected ammo is...and that's about it. Ammo is a bit confusing and unwieldy. Everything else just doesn't matter. The game also includes these black gate things which you can enter, and they stop time. The thing is, you can't attack while time is stopped and surveying the battlefield feels like its of limited utility.

The game boasts some 99 levels, which seems like an impossible task even if you were good at the game. There is an advanced mode that starts the player off at level 10, but that still seems like a long time. And you know, eye strain being a thing.

I took a video. No other comments, but I find it amusing that even the demo isn't perfectly accurate. That makes me wonder. I keep coming around to the same point, this is designed for one specific group of people, that is, people who find physics contests like this entertaining, won't go blind looking at this for long periods of time, and want to do it all under a time limit. I appreciate someone heading for a niche and just going for it, even if this isn't something likely to appeal outside of that niche.

The physics on these are interesting, but  2/10

How are they so hard to hit? 2/10


A mostly featureless plain. 0/10

Player Agency:
I have some issues with it, but for the most part the controls are exceptionally smooth, and there's just something cool about the way you move. 4/10


Vaxine is unique, even if its in a way that doesn't always work, but it has a charm all its own. I am just not necessarily the person for whom that charm works. 4/10

Despite how simple it is, it looks pretty cool in motion. 3/10

The manual's story and the game's title have absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay whatsoever. 0/10

You get an interesting tune when you start up the game, but then...nothing. Its weird, there are only two sounds, one when you change weapon color, and one when the enemy balls become networks. The two least important sound options. Why bother supporting the MT-32 at all in that case? Nevertheless, I appreciate the tune. 1/10

That's 16.

I'm not sure I'd say this was amazing, but it was better than Cybercon III. Then again, you have to really mess up to be worse than Cybercon III. Both of the other titles I've played from these guys were about 10 times better than Cybercon III. And more interestingly, easier to play. These guys really needed someone to reign them in, because they could come up with interesting concepts at times.

No comments:

Post a Comment