When Jumanji was announced that it was to be remade with a more modern take, I think most of us were sceptical to the whole affair. Stepping out of that theatre though proved that it was full of interesting and innovative new ideas to push the franchise forward. In the opening moments of Pixel Devil and the Broken Cartridge, you are whisked away into a video game world, much like the heroes of Jumanji. What you’re left with here is a barebones look at a bygone era of days filled to the brim with nostalgic tones, but one that consistently fails to hit the right rhythm.
As a love letter to retro pixel art adventures, you play as a young boy who happens across a mysterious video game. Brushing the dust off the old console and blowing into the cartridge, the power is on and the game is afoot. Immediately a portal opens and an evil force claims your friend, so it’s up to you to venture through this old school adventure and through various lands to essentially find the castle, beat the boss and save the princess! Okay, so it’s not quite Mario, but the story holds the same simple linear fashion of those past games.
While the story may be linear, the adventure is not. After a brief tutorial you’ll be presented with a map screen showcasing the various worlds you can visit; all four of them. Pixel Devil and the Broken Cartridge is by no means a long game. In fact, it will most likely be completed in a single hour or two, dependent on skill. What does increase the length is the game’s reluctant to hand guide the player. You can visit any one of these worlds at any point, but what the game doesn’t tell you is that certain worlds require specific abilities from others to be able to progress. What you’re then left with is a trial and error session of seeing how far you can get into each level, before one is accessible for you to navigate to its end.
It’s easy to admire the lack of assistance, and it should be commended, if only it was handled more efficiently. Some levels won’t showcase the particular ability you need to continue till quite late and results in you quitting back to the map screen to source the item from another level. By chance, you could easily enter the correct order of levels for the first time, but odds are it’s going to happen at least once, and it’s downright annoying.
Items can range from a gun that shoots arrows for you to jump on to reach higher areas, or a pogo stick to cross treacherous vines. While each level boasts a particular item that needs to be used, the collections never marry up to all feel completely necessary. Once a world is complete, it’s highly unlikely that particular item will be used in any of the later chapters.
When you do gain momentum in pursuing your goal through the levels, Pixel Devil and the Broken Cartridge is a lot smoother. The basic principle is that this is an action-platformer. You can shoot a gun and you can jump – outside of that there’s little room for experimentation. If you can’t make a jump early on, no enhanced platforming ability is going to rectify that later. Platforming is handled efficiently, but the shooting is a textbook example of why games have progressed the way they have. With no option to aim or increase your fire spread, combat encounters can rapidly enter tedious levels of hair-pulling. It’s quite common to approach enemies that are a lot smaller than you, meaning that there’s no real way to defeat them. The only option is to charge through like a daring athlete through hot coals. Boss battles feel significantly punchier however, with arenas that are articulated to ensure that the concoction of platforming and gunning feels more fluid.
Collectively this highlights the main issue with Pixel Devil and the Broken Cartridge. It’s a game so focused on replicating the past, that it doesn’t build an identity of its own and focus on crafting a fun platforming experience. The beeps and boops are enough to ignite the nostalgic fire inside you, but not enough to keep it aflame for long.
As mentioned, it does a great job of imitating the past. Each frame is clearly crafted by creators who love retro gaming and all the sights and sounds that accompanied them. The pixel art is wonderfully put together and the music is a joyous highlight, merging the perfect blend of music and sound effects. Whether intentional or not, the game also brings across a dangerous amount of screen tearing however, and becomes increasingly more jarring as the game progresses.
With an array of games that pose as releases from our younger days, it’s hard to recommend Pixel Devil and the Broken Cartridge on Xbox One to anyone outside of the die hard community of fans of retro gaming. While other games such as The Messenger have also mimicked the past, they’ve understood that gameplay has advanced significantly over the past twenty or so years and effectively join the two forces together – this does not. While other games have reinvented the wheel, this feels like the same old wheel just with a new lick of paint.