Super Qix is an immensely irritating follow-up to an immensely irritating game.
And, like all the really good immensely irritating games of the world, there’s a magic ingredient in there that keeps you coming back for more.
Super Qix is also an interesting game from a historical perspective, in that it’s a game that Japanese developers decided to build on after an all-American original.
In fact, Super Qix is a pretty good example of differing approaches between Eastern and Western arcade development in the 1980s. While the original Qix was a completely abstract experience not intended to represent anything in particular other than the things you needed to see in order to play the game, Super Qix brings graphics, music and a sense of “cuteness” to the experience.
Super Qix was actually developed by a company called Kaneko and published by Taito. If the name sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve come across the Gals Panic series of arcade titles — a range of games in which you draw lines across an obscured picture of a cute girl in a provocative pose while avoiding the unwanted attentions of a large “boss” enemy of some description. Hmm, where have I heard something like that before… in other words, Super Qix was basically the prototype for Gals Panic.
On the offchance you’re completely unfamiliar with Qix, the concept is simple. You have a blank screen, and a… thing you control. To begin with, you’re only able to move around the perimeter of the screen. Holding a button and moving into the middle allows you to draw a line, however, and once you’ve started you need to connect it to another edge to create an enclosed area. Sit still once you start drawing and a spark will creep along your line until it kills you. Your ultimate aim is to “capture” at least 70% of the screen in this way.
Up against you are a few enemies, most significant of which is the Qix itself. In the original game, this was an abstract shape that bounced and glided both gracefully and mathematically across the remaining play area, and which would destroy you if it touched either you while you were out in the open or an incomplete line — you are, however, safe from it while you sit on the border. In Super Qix, the strange geometric shape is replaced with a rather smug-looking gremlin-type thing that moves in spurts rather than constantly; the exact direction of his movement is somewhat unpredictable, but you can figure out the timing, at least, in most cases.
There are also smaller nasties that circle the perimeter of the play area to ensure you don’t just sit still for ages. In Super Qix, there are initially two of these, but a timer that encircles the play area indicates when more will appear, at which point you’re going to have to really stay on your toes to avoid being caught by anything.
One of the main additions to Super Qix is the fact that powerups appear when you capture significant areas. These vary in effect from a “Hurry Up”, which causes you to move more quickly, to an item that freezes all the enemies on the screen for a few seconds. Letters also appear every so often, and collecting one causes part of a word to light up at the top of the screen. Bonuses are awarded at the end of the level for how much of the word you completed and how much more than 70% you managed to capture.
Super Qix adds longevity and interest to the completely abstract and rather dry original game by revealing various backdrops with each stage. The word whose letters you collect tends to relate to this backdrop, and successfully clearing a round causes the picture to become full colour and animate in some way — though don’t expect any Gals Panic-style fun here; this is strictly family-friendly business.
In exchange for the additional features and things to think about, Super Qix strips out the “slow” movement option from the original game, which would allow you to fill in areas with a different colour for more points — but which was much more difficult to do so safely. You won’t miss it; there are enough other things vying for your attention during a typical game of Super Qix that only having one “draw” button to worry about is blessed relief.
The original Qix was interesting in that it is technically “unbeatable” and, like most early arcade games, didn’t really change much in its presentation from level to level; the focus was on the gameplay rather than the graphics. Super Qix, meanwhile, encourages players to keep trying just to see what image the next stage might be hiding, or whether the music will be different, or what the hidden word might be. As such, it’s a more immediately appealing game than its predecessor… though whether or not you think it is better is something of a matter of taste.
For my money, it’s a big improvement; the fact the Qix moves somewhat more unpredictably in terms of timing than its abstract predecessor can be a little frustrating at times — particularly when it leaps right into a long line you’ve just lovingly drawn — but that sort of teeth-gnashing, obscenity-hurling irritation is what Qix has always been about. On top of that, the additions to the formula such as the powerups and the collectible letters make for a much more fast-paced, exciting game than the original — and the attractive graphics and chirpy PSG music round off the package and lull you into a false sense of security before the pain truly begins.
I should put Super Qix down. It makes me swear and want to throw things. And yet somehow I can’t quite bring myself to set it aside just yet… just one more go… just one more…
More about Super Qix
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