“What the frakk is this?!”

"My God, it's full of space mines!"

“My God, it’s full of space mines!”

Ages ago I wrote a short article about the indie Atari ST title r0x. I’d heard rumours of a new version for more modern platforms but thought nothing more of it until a few days ago when I discovered that r0x (extended play) has been published as freeware/pay what you want for Windows-based PC’s and the Ouya console.

And the best part of that news is that it’s cracking.

It has quite a few similarities to the original Atari ST game but introduces several new features. The most obvious of these are a front-firing cannon and a plethora of enemy ships. That might make it sound like r0x has been changed into a conventional scrolling shooter but nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead what we have is an ingenious highscore game that throws a whole lot of the rules out of the window. For a starter, very limited bullets. The most shots your ship can hold at any one time is nine. That makes weaving around blasting everything a bad idea. There are also smart bombs that destroy everything onscreen but you can only carry three of these at one time. For this reason, weaponry is used sparingly and carefully with much of the game involving dodging the space rocks and grinding for bullets. There are also numerous bonuses floating around including the crystals from the first game (much clearer and easier to see this time around), the lost cosmonauts from the previous game and enemy pilots which can be shot for bonus points if you’re willing to spare the ammo.

Yes, whilst bullets (and other goodies) can be collected from handy shootable supply ships, the main way to restore firepower is by grinding against the rocks which slowly restores ammo. This makes r0x ep feel entirely different to most games in this genre as you swap emphasis between avoiding, careful shooting and grinding. And that’s not all.

A risky way of scoring big points is to use the ship’s thrust. Press the appropriate button and your ship starts flying through the debris and enemy ships at several times its usual speed. The long you do this, the more a score multiplier goes up meaning that bonuses collected and enemies shot earn bigger and bigger points as long as you keep your foot to the floor. And, trust me, whilst it’s tempting, dodging those rocks and collecting those bonuses becomes a lot more tricky and at some point you’ll realise you’re close to crashing, release the thrust button, and cuss as your multiplier vanishes and the pace returns to normal.

r0x (extended play) is the best game I’ve played in ages. The “easy to learn, hard to master” feel makes it extremely addictive, it makes full use of modern widescreen monitors and has beautiful 16-bit style visuals and some cracking music. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to load it up and then have “just one game”; the fact that it’s free is just the icing on the cake.

You can get r0x (extended play) for PC and Ouya here. The score to beat, as of writing, is 198,265.

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2 Responses to ““What the frakk is this?!””

  1. David M Says:

    Tried this out this morning. It’s really good fun! I’m not a massive fan of the bullet scrape mechanic, as I usually find edging pixel-close to something that can kill me more fiddly than exciting. But twinned with the scarce bullet idea it works really well, somehow. I like that you have to pick your shots wisely.

    Top score so far: 403,610.

    • Matty Says:

      I was a bit sceptical about the scraping thing as well but it’s actually very well implemented being both easy enough that you feel confident to try it and risky enough that you have to stay on the ball. The limited bullets thing is ingenious because it makes playing it so different to other shooters because you have to conserve bullets. It also makes using the thrust particularly risky as you can’t just shoot your way through the hazards, you have to dodge much of the time.

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