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North American PlayStation 2 cover art
|Developer(s)||Acclaim Studios Austin|
Vexx is a 2003 platforming video game developed by Acclaim Studios Austin and published by Acclaim Entertainment for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox video game consoles. The game was released in North America on February 11, 2003 and in Europe on April 4, 2003. The objective consists of collecting magical hearts and unlocking more worlds to play, defeating enemies and jumping across platforms. Vexx is armed only with the legendary Astani war talons, which give him the power to defeat his enemies, as well as fly and swim under water.
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The introduction tells briefly of a planet called Astara that was inadvertently destroyed by its own inhabitants, who "opened a door better left closed". The planet was, in fact, destroyed by the Shadowraiths, who had poured through the Landspire and the Rift system that had been created by the ambitious Astani in order to access other worlds. The Wraiths, led by their leader Dark Yabu, attacked Astara, ultimately draining all of the energy out of the Rift system. However, an official supplementary comic reveals how Treyven, the Guardian of Astara, used the legendary Astani war talons to defeat the entire first wave of the Shadowraiths at the cost of his own life.
Seven hundred years later, Astara is literally in pieces, and all that is left are large chunks of land floating in an asteroid field. However, the individual pieces of the planet are still habitable. One village known as the Overwood, populated by a primitive race called the Valdar, is eventually discovered by Dark Yabu, who attacks the village with his Shadow Horde. The only Valdani who try to resist are Vargas, the village Guardian, and his grandson, Vexx. Despite their bravery, they are overcome by Yabu's forces and are shackled with the rest of the villagers, all of whom are then made to toil in mines searching for Wraithearts - the last remains of the first wave of Wraiths and the only remaining source of the Rift system's power.
Vexx is "beaten with word and whip" until "his rage became unbearable", and he finally lashes out at his oppressors. He is stopped by Yabu, who would have killed him if Vargas had not then attacked Yabu to save his grandson. Furious, Yabu turns on Vargas instead and murders him with his shadow powers. Later that night, determined more than ever to get revenge, Vexx sneaks out of the caves and onto Yabu's windship. There he discovers Treyven's skeleton wearing the legendary Astani war talons and clutching a spire of rock. Yabu had kept the talons hidden for years because he was unable to destroy them and feared them falling into enemy possession. The talons permanently attach themselves to Vexx's hands, at the same time causing an explosion that destroys the windship and nearly kills Vexx. While he is unconscious, Vexx learns through a vision that Vargas' soul is still imprisoned within Yabu's magical amulet; Yabu plans to feed on the soul's pain and misery until Vargas is no more. Vexx is then taught how to use the Astani war talons while still unconscious by the weapons themselves, which pass on all the knowledge and experience of the previous talonbearers.
When he wakes up, Vexx is in the Hall of Heroes, where previous wearers of the war talons have been entombed. An old man named Darby appears and informs him that it was he who carried Vexx to the Hall, thinking that the young boy was dead. He also tells Vexx that Yabu completely destroyed the village and that Vexx and Darby are the only ones left. Darby, however, is too old to fight, so he instructs Vexx to collect the hearts of dead Wraiths, which still contain the energy drained from the rift system, and use them to power the gates in order to find and stop Yabu before he opens the gate to his own world. Before Vexx departs, Darby warns him that the Wraiths are shape shifters and to "trust no one along your journey".
Later on, Vexx meets up with Darby again inside the Landspire, and the two of them encounter Reia, the last remaining Astani warrior, who is also the narrator of the game. Reia exposes Darby, who turns out to be Dark Yabu in disguise. Both Reia and Vexx try to attack Yabu but he escapes, taking Reia's magical staff with him. It is revealed that by collecting the Wraith hearts, Vexx was actually helping Yabu power the gate to his own world. Since the only way to close the rift is with Reia's staff, Vexx has to activate the rest of the gates and catch up to Yabu to get it back.
Vexx finally finds Yabu in the Shadow Realm, and the two of them fight one last time. During the battle, Vexx manages to take Yabu's amulet, which gives him an extra dose of power. Vexx ultimately wins and retrieves the staff, but Yabu's death causes the platform on which he and the portal back to Astara stand to begin to crumble. Unable to get back through the portal, he throws the staff through, successfully closing the rift and thus saving Astara, but also trapping himself in the shadow realm. He is last seen roaming the desolate, wraith-infested lands.
Development and release
Development of Vexx began in late 1999 by Acclaim Studios Austin, with the studio wanting to create a mascot platformer for the then-next generation consoles. The development team was led by creative director David Dienstbier and designer Thomas Coles and varied in size, ranging from around 22-40 people who had worked on some of Iguana's previous titles, such as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Coles cited several platformer games as inspiration for the game, specifically Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie.
The game was initially titled Clip and Mischief, and starred a rodent-like creature named "Clip", who had a small, reptilian sidekick named "Mischief". This idea was shelved when the development team thought the concept was too similar to Jak and Daxter. In order to differentiate the game, several gameplay mechanics were changed about halfway through development, primarily the focus on one main playable character. The development team re-named the main character "Jinx" based on his bad luck and his knack for getting into terrible situations, but faced legal issues with the name. The character was re-named "Vexx" out of the notion that he would try to turn his bad luck onto his enemies.
Vexx's design changed several times during development. Designers initially submitted ideas for a character that Acclaim would be proud to have as their own brand mascot. The development team soon came to the conclusion that the character should be designed around the gameplay mechanics, and not the other way around. As Coles explained, "Mario is not a great character because he's Mario and he's designed out of nowhere. He's Mario because of the games he's been in and people have grown to love him." After creating the core gameplay mechanics, Acclaim did focus testing and worked on finalizing the design, taking inspiration from many sources. Vexx's gauntlets, for example, were inspired by a character's gloves from the comic book series Battle Chasers, and the team found them perfect for applying effects to give them the moveset they wanted. Though the development team tried to create a focused story for the game, they intentionally left Vexx's backstory open-ended so as to allow players to more freely identify with the character as an everyman hero.
Technology development on the game began in the first half of 2000, with the first game assets being created in November 2000. Early work on Vexx was done on PC, since the then-next generation consoles hadn't been released yet. The game was always planned to be released on all three platforms, but the team found it easiest to transition to the Xbox, due to its use of the same development tools. As development progressed, the team branched out and had people working on all three versions simultaneously. Acclaim tried to play to the strengths of each console, supporting, for example, Dolby Digital on Xbox and Dolby Pro-Logic II on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. With the exception of these and minor tweaks involving the platforms' controllers, the three versions are identical. Vexx was developed at the same time as Turok: Evolution, and though the games were developed by different development teams at Acclaim Studios Austin, they share the same engine and many of the same resources.
The game was officially unveiled at E3 2001 as Jinx and re-introduced as Vexx on January 14, 2002. Vexx was originally slated for an October 2002 release, but was delayed in order for the team to have extra time to polish the game. The development team was inspired by the then-newly released Super Mario Sunshine and its use of previews showing players where to find the shine sprites in the game, and added similar previews in the form of arrow indicators as a last-ditch effort to make the game easier for casual players. Vexx was finally released in North America on February 11, 2003 and in Europe on April 4, 2003. The game was published by Acclaim Entertainment for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox video game consoles.
Due to time constraints and insufficient funding, lots of content was cut during development. Vexx originally featured six worlds, with each world containing three levels, forming a combined total of 18 levels. The worlds idea was eventually scrapped, and half of the levels were cut from the game in order to focus on the remaining nine a year before the game was released. The game originally featured six bosses, including a troll boss featuring heavily in pre-release footage who eventually ended up as an NPC. The game's day/night cycle was supposed to play a significantly larger role as well, with the development team trying to create a light/dark world akin to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Several suit power-ups were also cut from the game, including an underwater suit that allowed Vexx to swim faster.
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