Fortix review – Killing Fort Qix
The inclusion of Fortix in the list of launch-day Minis available exclusively in the European PlayStation Store was a huge surprise, and also something of a disappointment for those gamers who live elsewhere in the world and would have liked to get their hands on it once they saw the intriguing screenshots. Having had a chance to play it for several days now, European Minis fans can be forgiven for feeling pretty pleased with themselves, as Fortix looks to be a very inventive and engrossing little game.
The brainchild of tiny Budapest-based development studio, Nemesys, Fortix is actually a remake of classic ‘80s puzzle game, Qix. Whereas Qix involved drawing closed shapes on the playing area which would then solidify and be marked as your territory, with the ultimate aim of capturing a certain percentage of territory in order to win, Fortix adds a fantasy element, complete with towers, turrets, Green Dragons and Blood Bats. However, don’t let this put you off if you’re an old-school Qix fan. Strip away the fantasy trimmings and the core Qix-style gameplay is actually rock solid.
Your task, as the noble, yet tiny, Knight Fortix, is to save the land of Fortiana from the dastardly evil Xitrof. How exactly do you do this, you might wonder? Do you storm his castle and chop off his head with your trusty sword? No, you don’t, although that would be fun! What you do is gradually recapture the land that Xitrof and his minions have annexed by drawing closed shapes on the field of play (or ‘circling’ as they call it in the tutorial), exactly as you would have done in Qix of old, only this time with added dragons. Naturally, the massed forces of evil aren’t about to surrender their ill-gotten turf without a fight, and place all sorts of fiendish obstacles in your way to stop you dead. If it all sounds a little complicated, never fear, there’s a comprehensive tutorial level designed to teach you the basics.
When you start the game you create your profile and then choose one of four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard and Impossible. You get 5 lives on Easy, 3 on Normal, 2 on Hard, and 1 on Impossible. It’s probably a good idea to start on Easy as it’s actually a very challenging game and gets difficult fairly early on.
After the tutorial level you’re taken to the world map of Fortiana, with 12 clearly marked areas waiting to be liberated. You don’t get to choose how you progress across the map. When you start, the entire map is grey, but each time you reclaim an area, it turns all verdant and lush again, with a shiny crown icon denoting your victory.
Your immediate task once the level loads is to guide your Knight across the top-down landscape and reclaim the fort that’s guarding the area by ‘circling’ it, i.e. drawing a complete shape around it. He can only move up or down or left and right, and trails a red line behind him as he reclaims the land, very much as you might draw squares and rectangles with an etch-a-sketch. You can travel safely along the base line (except for when pursued by Blood Bats later in the game) without incurring damage from enemies or obstacles. You complete a closed shape by moving off from the base line and connecting to another part of the base line. It doesn’t matter how near or far it is. The more of the map you cover, the more you reclaim and the closer you get to the fort, but equally, the further you travel the more vulnerable you are. If ANY part of the red line is hit by an enemy or a missile, you’ll lose a life, so you have to be very quick. The fact that you’re also working against a tight time limit means that you can’t afford to be too cautious either.
Each fort is guarded by at least one missile-firing turret. The turrets fire very quickly, and when there are three or four targeting you at once it’s very hard to move even a few millimeters without losing a life. The only way to remove them is by circling them in what usually amounts to a suicide move, or by circling halberd icons scattered around the map that fire catapults to destroy them.
The strategy involved in trying to take out the turrets one-by-one without getting hit is truly absorbing, but you can also expect a lot of frustration and plenty of trips to the ‘You Lose!’ screen! To minimize this, be on the look-out for power-ups which will ease your pain in a variety of different ways, such as freezing the dragons or the turrets momentarily.
The visuals are actually very impressive from the moment you fire up the game and start creating your profile. The faded-parchment border around the edge and the crispness of the top-down playing field really set the scene, and the monsters are simple yet effective.
Overall, there’s no doubt that Fortix is a challenging game which will take many hours of practice to master, making it superb value for money. You really feel that your brain is constantly working and strategising. Although there are only 12 levels, I guarantee you won’t be finishing this anytime soon, even on Easy.The only slight niggle is that the monsters and power-ups are so tiny that they sometimes get lost in the pale background, but that’s a minor quibble. For the most part, this is another Minis triumph for a fledgling studio. Let’s hope the rest of the world gets to enjoy it soon.