My recent gaming habits have seen me ditch near-on every triple A title that has released for a much simpler world; a world that allows me to make memories once more, a world that takes me back to the game types I enjoyed as a young child, a world that revels in the glories of years gone by. That of the indie gaming world.
And so the chance to take in a new, award-winning world in A Pixel Story was a bit too much to ignore. You see, Rising Star Games and Lamplight Studios’ latest creation promises to take us on a whirlwind tour from 8-bit pixel-art right up to current gen graphical standards, all whilst delivering unique platforming and puzzling elements as it does so.
Sounds like something that is right up my street.
A Pixel Story sees you starting life as that most iconic of video game characters, the Pong ball. As you could expect, spinning a whole tale around such a small, rather indescript, object would be a huge task, so thankfully it isn’t long before said ball grows a body, followed by some arms, legs and full features, turning him into a charming little mute character in the process.
From there on out, A Pixel Story starts to see its secrets unravel as the world hidden deep inside a computer is cleverly let out, all revealed by the diverse characters you meet, and the fetch quests they send you on. The most basic aim of the game is to run these errands, collecting coins and gems as you do so, before attempting to stop the evil OS that oversees everything from destroying the entire universe. The game itself escalates damn quickly, and from the humble 8-bit beginnings, it isn’t long before you find yourself in a much more modern day setting. In fact, it’s all rather well done and the inclusion of numerous pop-culture and video game references just seem to enhance the move from old skool, up to the modern day setting well.
It’s not all about the past though, and A Pixel Story delivers a well created story too. Okay, so there’s a bit too much story telling for my liking, and that in turn breaks up the actual platforming gameplay a little too much, but for those who like to play their games whilst gathering a ton of backstory along the way, A Pixel Story is going to be for you.
If you think this all sounds like the usual stuff you get in your usual bog standard platformer, then, well, you’d be pretty much right, because the basic mechanics are the same as those found in a whole host of other games from the well used genre. But there are a couple of lovely bolt-ons that just about push it into realms that the others don’t quite reach. Namely, the change of visuals throughout and the inclusion of a wonderful magic hat.
First things first, and you won’t be able to ignore the delightful change of visual clarity and solidarity from the off. Starting life as a small Pong ball, it doesn’t take long before your character, all fitted out with his body, arms, legs and features, is heading off onto his adventure through computing’s history…at least once he’s battled against a pesky seagull and managed to get his magical hat back anyways. With good old 8-bit visuals accompanying you through the first of six worlds, you’ll no doubt be in your element as you recall memories from years gone by – something which A Pixel Story is quick to remind you of with its subtle references. But as you progress, the main protagonist grows from his humble pixelated roots to something much more crisp and clean as the development team at Lamplight Studios mould the tale of A Pixel Story brilliantly.
But the visual story isn’t the only draw and no matter what that gaming title will have you believe, A Pixel Story is very much a platformer that tries new mystical ideas. Whilst you’ll find your usual hops, skips and jumps throughout the entirety of your time with the game, it is only when you manage to grab back your magical teleportation hat from that previously mentioned seagull, where things start to get exciting.
Basically, this hat does as its name suggests, allowing you to disappear, and then re-emerge, in a completely different spot. It’s crucial for getting past pools of acid (or at least what I think are pools of acid, they may just be water), spinning spiked wheels of death and more. Dropping your hat is easily done with a simple button press, and when you wish to appear again at that spot, the same press will whisk you there immediately. You may need to use this technique in order to make your way past a tricky obstacle, or utilise it to gain extra height in order to clamber your way through a stage. The most basic of these comes in dropping your hat in a strategic place, before hitting a powered spring and swiftly teleporting back to your hat, using the momentum gathered to spring into the air. That in itself is a joyous thing indeed.
Later levels see further plays on this and even more ideas introduced, with magic platforms helping move your hat around and then, later still, the addition of some brilliant Clones mixing things up even further. Each and every idea that has been included in A Pixel Story is a welcome one and it’s obvious that the development team have poured plenty of thought into its creation.
At least, that is, when it works as intended.
You see, there is a whole load of trial and error needed for your puzzle solving, platform navigating plans to come off and when combined with a slightly stodgy, never trustworthy movement action, will find a little frustration coming your way. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve tried to cleverly work my way past numerous deadly obstacles for nothing but failure to be sent my way, before eventually getting lucky and somehow making it through. Thankfully it’s super easy to get back into the action at the drop of a, um, hat, and the well placed, plentiful-in-supply checkpoints are an absolute god-send. You’re going to die a lot in A Pixel Story, whether that be through your own stupid fault, or that of the slightly off controls, and so it’s much appreciated to see so many different checkpoints available.
That mystery hat which the whole game revolves around isn’t the only magical device in A Pixel Story though, and the life-saving checkpoints also double up as special teleportation devices themselves. You’ll most definitely want to make the most of them, instead of trying to fight your way over already completed death pits, as you navigate back through each stage in order to track down your next quest.
It is also these which allow you to spend a darn sight more time with A Pixel Story than you ever thought you would, taking in some of the horrendously difficult, nigh-on unfair, unlockable challenge rooms that are in place, at any time – provided you’ve found enough coins to unlock them of course. You may also want to hop back in so you can play through previously completed stages, giving the chance to explore a little and pick up every single collectible coin or gem you can find – if for no other reason than for total completionist stakes.
For all the wonderment it brings though, A Pixel Story is a bit stop-start, without either the story or platforming side ever really being let off the leash. When the controls allow it, the traversing sections work well and the story is utterly brilliantly, but just occasionally they get in the way of each other, fragmenting the tale it is trying to purvey too much into small one sided conversations and slowing down the fun platforming sections even more.
But that said, they still work well in tandem, delivering a game that many will find hugely enjoyable. Others though will probably point at it being a bit too tough (especially if you delve into those Challenge rooms) and will no doubt leave the same people whining at the slightly untrustworthy controls – something which should never be in place with a game that relies on precision and jumping mechanics for progression. When you think that you’re combining platforming precision, with some unforgiving puzzles, you quickly get to see why a slight feeling of frustration starts to hit home.
For the price though, and the chance to wander through a history of video gaming from start to finish, A Pixel Story more than does the job to deliver a world that has been inspired by memories gone by.