The name of this game reminded me of two things, neither of them terribly pleasant. Since they share a name, Plax [$1.99] initially reminded me of a terrible, now-discontinued Canadian mouthwash. Nasty red stuff, felt like you were swishing fire around in your mouth. I don't recommend it. The other thing the name reminded me of was Atari's attempted Tetris [$0.99]-killer, Klax, which was not a very good puzzle game at all. Yes, things looked grim for Plax as I loaded it up, but I'm happy to report that it is neither a foul mouthwash that flays the gums from your teeth, nor is it a dull puzzle game with a neon hand on the cover for some reason. It is, in fact, a pretty neat twitchy score-attack game, a genre that needs a more efficient name if there ever was one.
Plax is one of those games where you simply have to hang in there as long as you can before your unavoidable demise. These games have become a lot more popular since Super Hexagon [$2.99] blew the doors off the scene a couple of years back, but the basic outlines are almost as old as the medium itself. In this game, you control two little circles called plax, who orbit around a big circle called the blob. The goal is to eat as many of the incoming dots, called plaxies, as you can while avoiding the counterattacks of the blob. The plaxies fly in from the outer edges of the screen, while the blob's attacks come from the blob itself. To succeed, you have to keep an eye on what's happening all around you, and since you're controlling two plax at the same time, you're going to need two eyes to cover all that action. Which, I suppose, is just about right.
There are two ways of controlling your dynamic duo. You can use one finger, which will move both plax in lockstep with each other around the blob. This is not a very good idea, trust me. The other method uses a touch on either side of the screen to move the plax on that side of the blob. You can switch between them on the fly, so the one-finger controls can, I guess, be useful in case of an emergency nose scratch or if you need to make an objection. Releasing both touches will automatically pause the game, which is a pretty cool idea for a game like this. If you're playing on a smaller screen, like I do, the game helpfully offers extra sensitivity options so that you don't have to block the play area with your fingers.
At a basic level, you're just moving your plax around the blob, avoiding the spikes it fires out, and collecting the incoming plaxies for as long as you can. However, the game occasionally throws one of a few different curveballs at you. Sometimes the blob will go crazy and shoot out a ton of spikes, or shoot beams straight out at you. It will also release an enemy plax now and then that will take its own path around the blob, eating plaxie and trying to take you out. This is where you have to start paying attention to one of the nuances of the game. As your plax absorb plaxies, up to five dots will appear inside of them. Collect a sixth, and you're back to an empty plax. Having more dots inside your plax can help you defeat enemy plax, while having five dots inside your plax enables you to destroy one of the blob's spikes. If you're carrying five at the moment, it's actually beneficial to avoid picking up more plaxie dots until you've spent that charge. It's a lot to keep track of while you're trying to stay alive, but you really have to if you want to maximize your score.
Not everything is out to get you, however. Sometimes a power-up will float in among the plaxies, giving you extra defense against the blob or slowing down the speed of play. It's a nice bit of mercy that helps a very tough game feel just a bit more fair. You'll still have to work hard to survive past the one-minute mark, though. There's a pretty serious competition going on in our forums right now, and the best player has yet to cross the two-minute mark. Admittedly, that makes the average play session a good bit longer than Super Hexagon, but it's no walk in the park, even with the ability to take three hits before you're out. Happily, the game doesn't waste your time getting you back into another game once you've lost.
Like most post-Hexagon games of this type, Plax features clear, bold visuals, and a heavy, rhythmic soundtrack. Every element of the game is either white or one other color, which changes as you play. The game is very good at communicating itself visually, with blob attacks usually telegraphed in some way to help you avoid them. The UI is slick and clean, and though the game doesn't have a ton of options, they're all easily located. The music is quite imposing, and while dubstep is a bit overplayed at this point, it does fit the menacing nature of the blob quite well. At times, the music even seems to be matching up with the gameplay. Sirens warn when the blob is about to fire off a serious volley of spikes. It really helps you get into the game, and as long as you aren't allergic to dubstep, it's a pretty good reason to pop in some earphones.
There are an awful lot of choices in this genre on mobiles, so you might be wondering what this one does that makes it stand out. After all, even beautiful visuals and excellent music is almost par for the course at this point. In my opinion, what Plax brings to the party is the mechanic of having to take care of two different units at once, along with the interesting element of keeping track of the present plaxie count for each one to maximize your survival. I also like that in allowing you to take a few hits, Plax isn't quite as brick-to-the-face hard as it could have been on start-up. You get time to get your bearings before things get really stressful, instead of the game starting off at the maximum tension level. At the same time, the game is still incredibly challenging in the long run. It's definitely worth checking out for gamers who appreciate a good score attack.
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