Name: Tempest X3
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1996 / 1997 (PAL)
Arcade games have not always been successful when ported over to the home computers or consoles. Games like Pac-Man, a giant of the Arcade halls the world over has had some quite dismal ports over the years, not least the hideous Atari 2600 entry. Overall throughout the course of time though many of the true greats have found homes and lives way beyond that of those dark, neon lit arenas. Remakes and sequels have also been a bit of a mixed bag however one or two have been true classics, games like ‘Tempest’ which began way back in 1981 have produced some stunning updates, mostly thanks to the work of one very eccentric games designer by the name of Jeff Minter who although never created the franchise, certainly took it to brand new levels of wonder.
Tasked by Atari themselves to produce a flagship arcade game for their new 64-Bit console called ‘Jaguar’ in 1994 he delivered Tempest 2000 which was everything great about the original concept with all manner of tripped out, drug induced, house music trimmings. Often cited as the reason to own Atari’s glorified doorstop it was hailed as a masterpiece when released onto the Jaguar console. Two years later a new version was produced for Windows PC, Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Considering just how well the previous instalment was received this one had big shoes to fill! Was the world ready for more arcade thrills? Tempest X3 would soon find out!
On face value and if you fail to look closely at it properly Tempest X3 looks almost identical to it’s predecessor. Initial loading screens aside and differing title screen the music that brings you into the experience is from that Jaguar game and even a look at the game box sells you on the memories of the one released just two years prior. X3 is unashamedly a remake of Tempest 2000 and it’s not going to apologize for it, in fact, it’s going to use it as a way to tug at those heart strings… Job done! Presentation is minimal yet profound. There’s no illusions that this is going to be something it’s not. This is a two year old game that itself was a remake but with a lick of paint and gameplay changes.
As previously mentioned Tempest X3 is an arcade game through and through and at it’s simplest form of description it places you, the player, as a small yellow ship that sits at the very edge of a ’web’. The object of the game is to navigate the web by traversing it’s rim and stop all of the enemies that start out in it’s center getting to the edge and destroying you. Think Centipede but then apply a different dimension as the graphical style. You have a set number of lives and during the course of your zapping and moving you will earn numerous power-ups to help you defeat enemies. It’s a simple concept that on paper sounds perfectly fine, if slightly repetitive and as I mentioned at it’s core this is the game.
Where the genius of it all comes from though is in the execution of these basic gameplay elements. Space Invaders is the best example I can think of to compare it too as with that game everything is quite dull to begin with yet as you get more and more into the level, the enemies move faster, a sense of urgency suddenly becomes prominent. Tempest X3 does the exact same thing, only again, change the viewpoint to a 3D style and whack up the tempo 50 notches! A lot of the time Tempest feels very much like you are playing Asteroids… but now your view is that of inside the ship! Imagine that eh?
The first level of the available 99 is a simple circle which along with the first 10 or so levels is a nice way of helping you focus on the various enemies and how they will attack. Some will simply start as dots in the distance then slowly move forward, others will move faster and fire and some will move in exceptionally confusing ways to try and disorient you. That’s what Tempest is, a pure assault on all of your senses. Regardless of enemy type they will all try to reach the rim of the pattern you are fighting on and then proceed to try and touch you in order to kill you. With several enemy types strategy comes into play as you try to dispatch them as fast as you can in order to make sure you are not looking left and right but always forward. To begin with this is easy enough, however it doesn’t stay this way for long.
In order to make everything both way more interesting and also help confuse the player the graphics are exceptionally simple yet massively colourful. Simple level ‘patterns’ come alive with rainbow effects that move as you do around the outer grid. Explosions are dashes of pixels filling the screen and ever power-up is met with text on the screen, all designed to confuse and most importantly give a real and genuine sense of urgency. Levels themselves are situated into blocks of 16 and your progress through them will be saved so that should you need to continue you won’t ever have to go back to the first pattern and start from scratch. Each significant block is separated by a cool bonus level and a change of music that plays in the background and it’s here where Tempest X3 delivers it’s killer blow, the soundtrack!
A mixture of fast paced techno house it’s absolutely fantastic and often you will find yourself firing and moving in time to the tunes themselves. Whilst this won’t end well it’s just another example of the design of it all is about confusing whilst entertaining. X3 wants you to focus on the beats and the flashing lights and sounds… because then you will die! It’s genius!
Moving through the levels results in larger and more complex overall shapes meaning that navigating the circumference takes time, valuable time that you don’t have so strategy becomes even more important the longer it goes on. Whilst enemy patters remain constant, encouraging repeated play in order to memorize, dying resets the level and for the bigger ‘webs’ this can be exceptionally annoying. That being said, old arcade games were punishing because they were designed to eat coins so for those familiar with such genres this won’t put you off, for many it will be the main reason to play! Often your screen will be awash will all manner of insane lighting effects and played in a dark room this superbly recreates the feeling of standing in those original Arcade Halls in the 1980’s, nostalgia is huge with this game and the Playstation version is an exceptional version. It’s possible to play the entire Atari Jaguar version in this edition and not only that, you can also enter a cheat code to play the classic original in all of it’s glory. Whilst a huge step down in excitement factor it certainly helps showcase just how far Jeff Minter took the original concept and ran with it. Originality is fantastic but evolution of existing ideas done properly can be just as magical.
Initially X3 is daunting due to just how fast and hard it all gets so quickly, however with sensible in-game save points and a lot of skill this can be completed . That’s not the games focal selling point though, it’s made to be played. Whilst merely a simple port with a few things changed (not all for the better) at it’s heart Tempest X3 is exactly as fun, cool, awesome and addictive as that Jaguar entry. It’s so loud, so brash and so compelling that playing it makes huge periods of time just whiz by. A two player mode is also included to extend the lifespan of it all although in all truth it’s the 1 player game where the magic lies… and this game is exactly that, it’s magic!
Functional yet gorgeous graphics with first class use of colours as effects and a soundtrack to die for, it would be essential on those things alone, the fact it has a world class game in the middle feels like the icing on the cake and today’s your birthday! Everything was perfect when it hit Atari’s waste of plastic console in 1994 and this 1996 PS1 entry still has everything firing on point. Often marked down simply because gaming had apparently moved on graphically by the time this version hit I see absolutely no reason to remove praise. A great game is a great game for all time, it never ages. Tempest 2000 was an absolute classic, this is every single bit as worthy of such merit! Fun times three, X3, Tempest X3! Play this… yesterday!
Verdict:- It may have a few things changed, such as the A.I. Drone which no longer acts independently in order to make life easier and the soundtrack may sound muffled due to it’s processed re-recording for this Playstation version but the extras and addictive gameplay remains perfectly intact.
This is old school meeting new school cool and it’s glorious. It’s looks basic, plays the same way but who the hell cares when zooming around webs blasting stuff is this fast and intense. An absolute must play!
Second Opinion:- Arcade games are where all of this comes from, for an entire generation this was gaming. Time may have changed how things look and sound and even how we control our interactions with them but one thing has always remained. Quality!
Tempest X3 is pure class from first boot up sequence to last level victory. It’s an adrenaline fuelled monster that’s aged brilliantly. It needs more robots though, it already has tons of lasers… Brilliant!
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10