Qix! Now there’s a game that we didn’t expect to mention in a review.
Qix was a 1981 Taito puzzle game that first emerged on Atari consoles. It handed you control of a little diamond and positioned you on the sides of a giant black square. Move into the square, and behind you would flow a long, Tron-like trail. Connect that trail up with other trails or the walls of the square and – wahay – you have coloured in a box that renders a certain percentage of the square complete. Colour in enough of the square – and dodge enemies as you do it – and you complete the level, sending you on to the next one.
It sounds rubbish on paper but – for a game that was just vector lines in a box – boy did it get the pulses racing. There’s something excruciatingly intense about being on the way to creating a huge box, only to see the enemy beelining towards you. A single break in your line, and a life is gone.
But for all of its effectiveness, there haven’t been many (any?) games that have adopted the template, outside of a momentary resurgence with the XBLA game Qix++. So, colour us happy and nostalgic when we started playing Mokoko X. It sketches down a ritual circle and summons the spirit of Qix.
That’s not to imply that Mokoko X is a Qix clone. Far from it. There are so many bells and whistles on Mokoko X that it ends up looking like a Christmas tree. This is a delightfully bonkers, overblown, morally dubious little adventure that just happens to have a game of Qix at the centre of it.
Where on earth to start? Having booted up Mokoko X, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a practical joke. It’s presented more as a waifu dating sim or visual novel than an arcade game. Doe-eyed girls bounce and jiggle on the opening game menu, pushing up their boobs and being all ‘Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball’. Things don’t improve as you drop into the game menus, choosing one of them to ‘save’ from a series of lecherous men.
But then the bass drops. Mokoko X drops in some text about what you are about to do, and – more often than not – you are facing off against an inanimate object that has been possessed by a devil, AI, ghost or any other weird trans-spiritation, and is bothering the poor girl that you are trying to save. We can’t underline this enough: these sections are WEIRD. There are men who have been cursed to become airfix models, bugs called Neil who have gained sentience, and ghost pirates that have been forced to make a home in amorous anchors. It’s a parade of nonsense and utterly entertaining. In a weird comparison, we found these text snippets almost as motivating and enthralling as those in Lost Odyssey: they act as their own motivation to keep playing.
They still bother us a bit, though. While the men get these lusty, bizarro descriptions that clearly have had a lot of attention focused on them, the women get the short end of the stick. They’re damsels, completely objectified (which is kind of the point, but still), and nowhere near as interesting as the male characters. We found it occasionally icky, particularly when their animated chests seem to defy physics.
Past these weird vignettes, you get to the game proper. And it’s Qix. A vast square is populated by a boss and their minions, and your job is to confine them in ever-decreasing boxes, using the trail that sputters out of your spaceship. You can choose to pick off their minions, leaving you more room to take out the boss, or do a Hail Mary and try to make a box that jails them in one go.
The decision-making is as difficult as ever, because there is so much going on on the screen at one time, creating a sense of urgency. A shield mechanic allows you to absorb the bullets fired by enemies, but only for a short time, and the only way to replenish it is to make boxes. So, you’re linking together parts of the screen to keep your little spaceship protected.
We will admit to being a little overwhelmed at the start. We hadn’t worked out a few of Mokoko X’s best practices. There’s not a lot of help, either: you get a set number of lives in each level, but power-ups don’t tend to boost those lives. So,we were dying regularly, wondering where it was all going wrong. Until something clicked: making long, thin bridges into danger areas, incrementally building a fence, was the way to go. Suddenly, we were churning through the levels – even completing the end-of-round boss levels that bring all the previous bosses together in one melee.
For a game that’s built on foundations as simple as these, the levels are astonishingly varied. Mokoko X has a fantastic approach to power ups, which are scattered as Mario-like question marks in the world. Surround them and they offer improvements like shields and time-stops, but they have a dual purpose, as they are also walls. You can’t glide along walls that have power ups on them, so they are often used to create mazes and more unusual layouts.
And the bosses are a rogue’s gallery of mechanics and griefing. Our favourite is Ali Baba, who is a pro-gamer-turned-AI, who is stuck in a PC with significant lag and drop-out. So, their boss battle has various glitches and DDOS attacks, making it incredibly hard to understand what the hell is going on. Other bosses are simpler: they have waves of missiles, turrets, poison trails and more.
Reach the end of a level and you have one of the finest highscore screens in recent memory. Acting as borders to the gameplay, you can see your placing against a hundred other players (we even placed high in a few lucky instances). It’s at-a-glance and comprehensive.
There are minor gameplay hiccups, perhaps from playing on a game controller. It can be hard to make thin bridges, as the game finds it difficult to register whether you are making a square or simply retreating back down the line you just made. If you’ve created complex shapes, then the ship will also get stuck, refusing to come out of a little nook that you constructed. These blips can make the controls feel stiff and unresponsive, when you need maximum flow to complete the tense, fast levels.
But they’re asterisks to something we didn’t expect – a hi-octane, rewarding take on the arcade classic Qix. It removes so many of the original’s faults, and then adds layer after layer of bosses, power-ups and new ways to play. And that’s before we get to the ridiculous dating-sim wrapper over everything.
Don’t judge this pervy book by its cover. If you have a love for old arcade games, or like the occasional test of your reflexes, then Mokoko X over-delivers.
You can buy Mokoko X from the Xbox Store