PRAXIS FIGHTER X is a vertical SHMUP created for the PICO 8 fantasy console.

You play a protester who hijacks a fighter plane from the militarized police apparatus that protects a big, ugly, chemical facility complex, and use it consequently to turn the plant and its guardians to ash and dust.

Regardless of the slightly revolutionary plot, the game plays pretty traditional: Enemies appear, you dodge their projectiles and try to kill them – the only thing unique is the missile mechanic: Instead of just firing them, you press B to charge and aim – after you let the button go, the missile is spawned and does, when arriving at the selected area, high damage within an area of effect. Since missiles are often the only effective method to clear the screen in time, but charging them reduces your firepower, weighing this option out is, beneath surviving, one of the key aspects to beat the game.

Apropos beating the game: It is damn hard. Even though I’ve some experience in old school SHMUPs, I wasn’t able to beat this without continues even though I tried again and again over weeks. The projectiles and enemies come fast, and the game isn’t very reluctant if you fail to kill dangerous enemies fast enough – so you are in a constant need to be on your guard and play aggressive at the same time – it might even feel a bit unfair at times. But it plays smooth enough to be addicting, and I spent more time retrying to make it in a single run than I like to admit. The one level included in the game features a miniboss, a bossfight, and various enemy types, and is still challenging when using continues.

The work done with the sprites is rock solid: rather minimal, nothing experimental, but good, and you can tell that a lot of work and effort was invested into it – combined with the well adjusted default color palette of the PICO 8, the result is a pretty attractive game. Same is true for the music and sound: Both are good enough to support the flow of the game, but you won’t remember them for long after quitting it.

PRAXIS FIGHTER X shows pretty well both the chances and limits of following a traditional formula as a single game developer: It is rock solid in any aspect, and even good in some – but within a genre that is so rich of great and colorful games, many of them more experimental in both gameplay and sound, a bit more boldness in design-decisions on every layer might have been better – and ironically this is underlined by the very fact that it does everything it actually does probably as good as one can possibly expect from an underground game production. If you don’t mind the formulaic gameplay the likeable story, the very well polished gameplay, and the overall high quality make it a great pick for underground gaming enthusiasts and shoot ‚em up veterans alike.

The developer, SPARSE, did various – often much more experimental – games surely worth to check out. PRAXIS FIGHTER X worked flawless using Firefox with OpenSuse Thumbleweed.

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