Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Life of Pixel

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pixel_iconRetro “style” has become exponentially popular these days. What started as an amusing aesthetic for Mega Man 9 or upgraded project like Retro City Rampage has spawned a rush of pixelated, sprite-based games that may look like they came from yesteryear but play like anything but. To the untrained eye (or non-technical gamer) these are nothing more than cash-in titles hoping to embrace the nostalgia of gamers like myself and strategically place a casual game in a 1985 wrapping. My only exception to this style probably lies in titles like Retro Game Challenge on the DS, which fully recreated new games that actually play like old games, or titles like Pier Solar on the Genesis, which is an actual title that plays on the console. Life of Pixel rests just in the middle because it plays completely like a game from the past, but also looks like a game of the past as well. The twist: it does this with eight different known consoles/microcomputers.

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

Released on the Playstation Mobile platform, an odd choice at first but completely appropriate in hindsight, you follow a single pixel lost to the annals of history that rediscovers its value visiting a retro game museum. In this museum he discovers that he was quite useful on international consoles Atari 2600, Gameboy, and NES, along with five microcomputers that dominated 80s gaming in the UK. These work as “worlds” for the game, each containing eight levels of pure retro platforming bliss. In truth the levels are nothing special if not for the fact that each level and console looks and acts just like it did in the past, flaws and all. An easy example is that of the Atari 2600, which cannot scroll its screen in any way and thus the levels are contained in what you see. Additionally microcomputers could not scroll at will like the NES could so you have to move screen to screen. These are just a couple of examples of how the particular console you are on relates to the type of tactics you use in each level. This isn’t the only hook, as game design “grows up” as you progress in the consoles, so do the mechanics and gameplay styles. In the end you’re basically playing the same series and concept of game across 8 consoles and more than a decade of hardware and game design. If that doesn’t speak to the retro style I don’t know what does. Life of Pixel is a full retro experience, complete with visual styles that faithfully resemble the aesthetic of that console – you know how each console seemed to have a “look” – and properly credited music that holds as true as the graphics.

An example of a Gameboy level

An example of a Gameboy level

Personally I found no true flaws to the game. It ran smooth, it was fair in its collision detection, and the challenge, while occasionally frustrating, wasn’t being mean. Then again I am a retro gamer and have enjoyed all of these consoles/microcomputers for their positives and negatives. It’s clear from the Super Icon’s web site that a group of gamers do not share my sentiment when it comes to flaws like not seeing where you are going to fall or the behavior of enemies. If you are patient, observant, and don’t mind dying a lot, this title has a very Demons Souls methodology about it; you can learn to get around these obstacles if you just pay attention. On a particular level that had leaps of faith (and I’m not talking about the level “Leap of Faith” either) as you jumped around large pools of water, it looks like you’re just jumping and praying. Not the case, there are specific ledges and areas that will keep you out of harms way if you fall off of them. Admittedly you have to die a few (or a few dozen) times to learn the layout of the level, but it’s a mechanic you can work with nonetheless and it again comes down to skill and puzzle solving rather than pixel counting to overcome. For those that still struggle, complete maps are now available at the developer’s site.

I must say I’m pleasantly surprised by what I assumed to be a barebones title. At a dirt cheap price of $2, I’m getting more game and enjoyment than I have on titles up to five times that price. It’s also clear that developer Super Icon really cares about the product they’re selling and if this much care and development went into a $2 game imagine what they could do with an indie budget or even a large one. Either way those that have a mobile device with the Playstation Mobile platform and every Vita owner should download this title immediately and show support for one of the few mobile developers that takes making a game seriously.

By the NES you're talking high quality visuals

By the NES you’re talking high quality visuals

Editor’s Note:  Since we did not support scores when the original game was released, it was re-evaluated for a score with the re-release on PC, which is posted below.

Review Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

This game was not provided to our site for the purposes of review.  It was purchased by the author, Fred Rojas, in the Playstation Mobile store for $1.99 and completed in 3 hours on a Vita. 

Written by Fred Rojas

March 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm

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