A Pixel Story – What We Think:
The latest in a long line of in-joke-laden, self-referential indie games, the BAFTA Award-winning debut from Manchester’s Lamplight Studios keeps the concept fresh thanks to its clever storyline and cleverer puzzles. And instead of randomly mashing up genres and gaming eras (i.e. last year’s Concursion), it sticks to doing one thing well: the venerable puzzle platformer. Starting with a pastel-washed 8-bit world, you’ll gather memory jewels and explore nonlinear environments – be sure to watch out for spikes and water pits – until you’re ready to upgrade into the 16-bit world and beyond.
What Happened to Pong?
A Pixel Story‘s basic conceit is that a computer glitch somehow leads to the single-pixel “ball” from Pong achieving sentience and becoming the “chosen one” destined to save the world, or in this particular case, the computer system. It’s a neat idea, even if you’re getting worn out by the whole “video games about video games” concept, and it’s executed well, thanks in large part to your quirky sidekick, a personified search function that helps explain the story as it goes along.
It also helps that it takes a fairly focused approach; while there are references to all sorts of things in the occasional dialog, from obvious game references to obscure programming jokes, the gameplay aesthetic sticks largely to adventure platformers, with the “feel” of running and jumping (not to mention the occasional cannons) borrowing from the original Super Mario Brothers and the occasional spring-loaded jumps evoking the early Sonic the Hedgehog Games.
A Pixel Story’s most innovative aspect is its teleportation mechanic. Your character is equipped with a floppy hat that makes him look a bit like a pixellated Pharrell (or a pixellated Jamiroquai, if you prefer ’90s references). At any point, you can drop the hat in place and then teleport back to it at…well…the drop of a hat.
Most of the game’s head-scratching puzzles involve the teleportation hat, and range from using it to double-jump past tall obstacles to an array of lever-operated gates and traps. The puzzles are often clever and thought-provoking; you’ll occasionally find yourself quitting the game to think about how to progress into the next area.
On the downside, there are some brutally difficult timed sequences and jump sequences. While save points abound (and can also be used to quickly travel back to other areas within the game), meaning that your many deaths won’t set you back too far, the twitch skills demanded by A Pixel Story mean that some sequences move past challenging right into frustrating.
Cannons Boom as You Fall to Your Doom in the Challenge Room
For the truly masochistic, the game offers Challenge Rooms. Unlock these with coins collected on the various levels, and you’ll have the opportunity to play through some ridiculously difficult screens for extra memory crystals, which provide you with additional in-game lore.
This is actually kind of a disappointment. A Pixel Story is supposed to be a story, not just an exercise in platform-based punishment a la Super Meat Boy, so it seems unfair to keep parts of the story out of the reach of the wide swath of its potential audience that simply doesn’t have the skill (or the time) to manage the game’s most difficult levels.
That said, A Pixel Story is one of the better homages to classic video games, and the teleportation hat manages to inject some new ideas into the tried and true platformer. While arguably erring on the twitch-heavy side of the spectrum, its twin demands of brain and reflex are laudable, and it’s an impressive first-time offering.
I just wish it didn’t have to be so hard all the time.
Watch the trailer for A Pixel Story below: