r0x reviewJuly 12, 2009
When news of this game first broke, I took one look at the screenshots over at RGCD and thought to myself: ‘Wow! A new shoot ’em up for the ST!’ as this is the first action game released for the ST for some time, and I was very excited. However, SimonSunnyBoy pointed out to me that r0x was not a shooter, but in fact an avoid-em-up, and a closer look at said screenshots and their lack of bullets (or any kind of projectyle) confirmed this. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.
With r0x nominated for season 2, round 21 of STOT (ST Off-line Tournament), I put my disappointment behind me and set about trying to get a high score and, boy! How miss-placed was my disappointment?
r0x is an extremely well presented vertically scrolling avoid ’em up where rocks (hence the title) fly down the screen towards your delicate little craft. Amongst this asteroid field are also crystalline rocks that can be mined for points, bombs which can be picked up and used to clear the screen at hairy moments, lettered collectables spelling ‘EXTRA’ that boost your life count, stranded astronauts who offer a score bonus, and extra lives. As the pace picks up in the second half of the level, you must be on your toes to be able to differentiate these from hazards, and react accordingly.
Thanks to the super-smooth movements of all the sprites in the game combined with plentiful extra lives and life-saving bombs, this game would be quite straight forward and, dare I say it, easy. However, in a devilish twist of design inspired by modern shooters like Bangai-O and Psyvariar II, in order to glean the highest scores from this game you are forced to put your ship into danger. Huge bonuses are awarded for scraping your wings against the rocks as they fly past. It is an inspired addition to the gameplay: your ship’s hit-box (area of vulnerability) does not include the vehicle’s stubby wings, so if you risk getting your craft’s vulnerable hull close enough to the rocks so that your wings are touching them, huge bonuses and scores never before possible await you.
It is this play mechanic that separates r0x from its peers, and elevates it beyond the realm of any standard shooter. As you play, you constantly weigh up the risks and rewards of scraping a particular rock, ready to peel off at a moments notice to avoid an oncoming maelstrom or to dash across the screen for that ‘X’ you’ve been desperate to collect for the past two levels.
r0x features some truly elegant pixelling, especially evident in the r0x themselves where the artist has created some lovely effects using the limited palette available. All the sprites are well realised and easily recognised, even when hurtling at you at high speed. Accompanying the striking visuals and dizzyingly addictive gameplay is a rocking soundtrack provided by aural luminaries Crazy-Q, DMA-SC, and TomChi. As the readme instructs, attaching a loud sound system to your STE is essential.
Which brings me to the only down point of this whole package: the system requirements. r0x needs an STE with at least 2MB of RAM to run, which may prove to be a barrier to those hoping to play the game on real hardware. However, Heavy Stylus has provided a version that is bundled with STeem – the excellent Atari STE emulator – and a batch file that runs r0x on a Windows machine using the ideal STeem setup, making r0x easily accessible to those without a 2MB STE or emulating experience.
Add to all this an excellent two-player VS. mode and some hidden content to be unlocked by the best r0x scrapers and I’m left with only one conclusion: r0x, disappointing? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Head over to the RGCD web site to see for yourself.