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Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:   Acclaim
Publisher:   Acclaim
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Platform
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Unit, Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p
Date Posted:  


Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was quite a hubbub about the latest release in Nintendo’s pet franchise: the one, the only, Mario Sunshine. Now that some time has passed and youthful fans (and cynical ad execs) have had ample time to milk it for all it’s worth, and run the popular children’s platformer straight into the ground, Acclaim is playing the odds that people will be looking for something else along the same lines.

Their answer comes in the form of Vexx, a tough little hedgehog-like creature with Wolverine-style metal talons who seems to have a lot more than a phony, poorly done Italian accent going for him. While this may seem a bit strange and harder edged than the usual N64-era preteen Mario audience would be accustomed to, Acclaim is hoping this odd hybrid will draw in both the Super Mario Sunshine crowd and more mature gamers. Most of these mature gamers rightly feel the Mario franchise (at least since the days of 8 bit) is for kids and want a bit more of an edge to their gaming experience.

The "plot", such as it is, is the ultimate in cheese. One day a group of evil beings who follow the word of "the Dark Yabu" (ahem) overthrew the world of Vexx and his people. Captured along with his grandfather, the aging "guardian of Overwood", Vexx sees his fellow villagers either imprisoned or murdered. Unable to stand it any longer (picture William Shatner getting worked up: I…just…can’t…STANDITANYMORE!") Vexx escapes due to the sacrifice of his grandfather. In his flight, Vexx just happens to stumble across the "legendary Astani War Talons". With them, Vexx somehow suddenly has the power to stop the Dark Yabu and avenge his people. Riiiight. The bottom line is, if we are to go by the intro, Vexx is nothing more than D&D for kids with their brains sufficiently addled by the pernicious influence of Disney. We are presented with a positively painful overwrought intro, read earnestly by some crappy children’s author over Disney-style cheese animation, telling a Baldur’s Gate style story of…well, absolutely nothing; but you just know somebody’s going to end up gushing ecstatically about how deep and profound this crap is. Yabu yabu!

Should one make it through this tomfoolery without immediately heading for the place of purchase to demand a refund, the first thing the intrepid gamer has to deal with doesn’t exactly clear the waters. A Crash Bandicoot style training level finds Vexx’s human counterpart learning his/her chops to the accompaniment of some ridiculously incongruous, tacky "dramatic" Hollywood music. I guess the closest parallel I can come up with is the late Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, but that was far, far better than this dross). Doubtless, a fair portion of the game’s intended audience has by now given up on it, or skipped through in disgust, but hold: more adventure awaits!

There are nine playable worlds in Vexx; each split into several levels/areas. In each of these, your goal is to find a rather Fulcian beating heart (complete with severed arterial extensions, and pulsating rather grotesquely for an ostensible children’s platformer). Apparently, these "shadowraith" hearts are necessary to help power various portals that allow you access into other worlds. Basically this is a fancy way of saying that you can’t get to the next level without reaching said level’s goal – like the rest of the game, a bunch of fancy BS attempting to put a glossy sheen on the bland averageness of what amounts to a very standard platformer). Unfortunately, most of the hearts are located fairly proximate to each other, so you end up running the same paths over and over. As one might expect, this sort of thing tends to make the levels a bit repetitive.

It seems that all platformers, since the onslaught of the N64, fall under the curse of the spastic drunken camera, and Vexx is no exception. During certain sequences the camera will track Vexx fairly well, but God help you if you have to pass too close to a wall or need to adjust your view for a tough jump. This is when the camera will decide to spin wildly and rotate or sweep circuitously at all sorts of bizarre angles, pointing your view anywhere but where the game dictates you actually need to see. Much like my favorite seasick platformer, Castlevania 64, manually adjusting the camera only corrects the view to where you want it for a half second, before spinning back to it’s previous inane view (or in some cases, an even worse one).

Aside from the opening animation there are few scenes in Vexx involving any voice acting at all, which is a good thing, since said voice acting isn’t exactly top notch. Mercifully, once the cut scenes end, all you hear is Vexx grunting as he works his way through each level. Tech geeks with state of the art sound systems should be ecstatic to hear that Vexx supports Dolby Pro Logic II, so you can hear him grunt at you in 5.1. WOW! Sign me up, quick!

Like all too many games in current release, Vexx would have been considered a great looking game, if it were released a year or two ago, on the N64 or even Dreamcast. As a Next-Gen platformer, Vexx just doesn’t hold up. Graphically speaking the game looks OK, for the genre, but there’s little significant improvement over such N64 favorites as Conker. Some nice graphic touches here and there (water, the rippling haze effect of the portals, akin to the "behind the mirror" effect in John Carpenter’s fascinating Prince of Darkness), rather than setting the standard, appear to have been thrown in to spice up the dross of the overall layout, feel, and character design. Granted, the frame rate runs a bit smoother, and there are a few technical upgrades (such as said shimmering portals), but there’s nothing here to write home about. One neat thing about Vexx (you knew there had to be something, didn’t you?) is that you’re able to change the time of day in the game. Again, it’s not particularly significant (nothing wonderful happens based on the time of day), but it’s fun to see how the landscape and monsters change once it becomes night.

Once things actually get going in Vexx (which takes longer than you might suppose), you’ll probably start to enjoy the game a great deal if you were interested enough to purchase or rent it in the first place. Unfortunately, one of the first hearts to be retrieved is in an area that requires a lot of jumping and perfect timing (mind you, this is in conjunction with the queasy camerawork we discussed earlier). Let me warn you, falling to the bottom of the level (or damn close to it) a few too many times right off the bat will make you seriously consider whether to dump the game before you even really get started. Vexx goes from challenging to frustrating far too early in the game, thereby running a very high risk of turning people off (especially younger gamers). If you persevere, the next levels will fly by with little trouble and the game will seem fun again. And this, while a bit extreme in throwing down the gauntlet so early on, seems to be a problem with a few too many games lately. Developers appear more interested in making something extremely difficult and frustrating rather than fun and diverting (the sign of a true geek – making everything incomprehensible and useless to anyone who’s not "hardcore" or an "insider"). And all things considered, they’d better watch out, lest they get their wish. If the trend continues, there won’t be any audience left but the "hardcore insiders". And a couple of hundred computer nerds slapping each other on the back between snorts do not a profit make.


  • Amusing for platform junkies
  • Huge world to explore
  • Controls aren't bad - fairly responsive


  • The cameras. Perfectly horrible computer-misdirected camera nausea makes movement in spots requiring any sort of precision extremely difficult.
  • Nothing like anthropomorphism. A cast of monkeys, boars, and squirrels. Can you say "Disney"?
  • The introductory cutscenes. Beyond what I mentioned earlier, Vexx contains some of the worst voice acting ever (and yes, that includes Shenmue). My favorite was "Old Darby" (Darby Crash, he ain't) – some 35 year old yuppie talking out the corner of his mouth in a sad attempt to approximate the intonations of the aged. His disembodied head threatens to accompany you throughout the course of the game, reappearing periodically lest you miss his endearing presence and doubtless Oscar-winning performance. Thankfully, at least in my game thus far, I never caught sight of the sorry bastard again. Good riddance, I tell you!
  • The sound. In keeping with an annoying cinematic trend, the dialogue is kept relatively low, while the moronic sound effects you could do without are jacked to earsplitting, floor shaking levels. It’s clear Acclaim thought they had a real epic on their hands here.

Final Verdict: 

The once-freakish heights of popularity of the platformer have plummeted in recent years due to some pronounced graphical innovations better showcased in other, more "realistic" genres. Unfortunately, the 3D platformer has failed to follow suit; some decidedly minor, halfhearted efforts to incorporate prevailing technological standards merely seem awkward in the bulbous, day-glow setting of what are still essentially N64 games in the Next-Gen era. Those who cling to their earlier love of the platform genre should enjoy Vexx. If you disregard its many limitations and missteps, at heart, it’s a solid 3D platformer.

Where it makes its biggest misstep is in it’s introductory cutscenes, a sorry attempt at creating depth and a "meaningful" plot in the wake of the recent, somewhat unexpected resurgence in popularity of Tolkien. More reminiscent of Maximo (without the fun) and Toejam and Earl (without the humor) than The Lord of the Rings, this wannabe RPG for morons comes off instead like a poor cousin to Donkey Kong Country. N64 based its entire failed history on kids’ games like this. You’d think everyone else, if not Nintendo themselves, would have learned from that. The crowd that spontaneously orgasms over kindergarten-level crap like Shrek and Monsters Inc. should enjoy this. Everyone else over the age of 10 should steer clear.

Overall Score: 6.0

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