After all these years, I'm still baffled over Disney's mishandling of the Tron franchise: Given the original film's premise and the popularity of its first arcade game, Disney could have used Tron to break into the video game market through a series of games set inside of a computer world. Instead, Disney's licensing of Tron games has been uneven and largely underwhelming. After the original arcade game in 1982, there was another arcade game in 1983, Discs of Tron, and a handful of Tron titles for the Atari and Intellivision home consoles. That batch of games was followed by ... 20 years of nothing.
The impressive Tron 2.0 came out in 2003 but between lackluster sales and poor support from Disney, that game quickly faded into cult classic status while other game franchises thrived. Since Tron 2.0, Tron characters have appeared from time to time in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, and a selection of tie-in games of varying quality were released under the collective Tron: Evolution title when the Tron: Legacy movie came out in 2010.
I'm sure that more tie-in games will be released for the upcoming Tron 3, but that's part of the problem: They're tie-in games for a movie series, not games that are part of an ongoing, stand-alone video game series. Between that and Disney's prompt cancellation of the incredible yet short-lived Tron: Uprising animated series--a series that could have provided game developers with plenty of fantastic ideas, plots and settings--it appears that Disney has relegated the virtual world of Tron to the silver screen and video game cameos and tie-ins. (I've also been disappointed how Disney let the Epic Mickey video game series go to waste, but I'll save that for another rant.)
Nevertheless, the slick neon-lit style of Tron has influenced the look and game play of many video games throughout the years, and this post highlights two that I've recently found that adhere to both the look and the metaphorical, computer-based logic of the Tron-iverse: escapeVektor by Nnooo and Light Trax by Skip Ltd. Read on for my review of these two games, and why Tron fans should add them to their video game collections.
escapeVektor was released through WiiWare for the Nintendo Wii in 2011 and for the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita in 2012. In this game, players guide a character named Vektor, who is trapped inside of a computer’s central processing unit (CPU), through a series of maze-like digital landscapes with the hope of escape. However, the CPU has other plans and dispatches a series of enemies--Patrols, Hunters, and Interceptors--to foil Vektor’s plans. Click here to learn more at the official escapeVektor site, where you can also purchase the game’s chiptune soundtrack.
As a game, escapeVektor is reminiscent of two 80s era arcade classics, Pac-Man and Qix. Yet the look and game play logic of escapeVektor follows the visual style and plot of the original Tron movie so closely that it might as well be a tie-in. Between the neon-lit backgrounds, an electronic music soundtrack, a selection of data-based enemies of varying degrees of intelligence and capability, and a hero who is navigating his way through a labyrinthine world that's ruled by an oppressive master control program, escapeVektor is almost like an abstract, minimalist retelling of Tron.
Light Trax is part of a series of games that were released under the collective title Art Style. It is a remake/upgrade of Dotstream, a game that was part of Skid Ltd.'s bit Generations series for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, and it was released through WiiWare for the Nintendo Wii in 2010.
Playing Light Trax is like watching a light cycle race from a great distance: A group of bright pastel lines race against each other and avoid a variety of obstacles on a black-and-neon landscape. Light Trax is ostensibly a racing game but like everything in the Tron-iverse, it has its own peculiar logic. The lines in Light Trax can only accelerate their speed by running parallel to another line, but they will decelerate if they collide with or are cut off by another line. The race courses themselves defy gravity, twisting and turning in all sorts of directions in a seemingly endless expanse of 3D digital space.
In addition to the race courses and race circuit series, the game also provides a selection of "Freeway" levels, where players can guide their line along the freeways that connect the different race circuits to each other. While the same rules of acceleration and deceleration apply to the freeways, players can either race to a specific destination through the freeways within a set period of time or they can choose to just "cruise" the freeways as they glide their way through vertigo-inducing trajectories. Imagine watching Tron, Flynn, Beck or some other Tron-inverse character riding a light bike on a mega-highway that connects different areas of the Grid, and that’s how these levels feel. Click here to listen to a selection of chiptune music from the game’s soundtrack.
A Freeway level from Light Trax (virtual barf bag not included).
Neither escapeVektor nor Light Trax are official Tron games, but they capture the aesthetic of the franchise so well that they should provide many Tron fans with a satisfying game experience. Given how poorly Disney has handled the Tron franchise overall, I’m happy to take what I can get.