I know I bang on about how good the games of yesteryear were. How they concentrated on gameplay puzzle mechanics more than just fancy graphics. I get that it could become repetitive and that you might be sick of hearing me compare every title I see to something that I may have played umpteen years ago on some long shelved platform. I get that, I do, but… A Pixel Story.
It’s almost written in the stars that I’d get to review this game. From the very start of it, I was apprehensive. The retro-trend that seems to be sweeping the console market is bound to fizzle out soon, but offers a welcome break from the pre-packaged feel of the first-person shooter. A devious puzzle platformer was always going to get compared to older games, so why not base it in that genre, right? And that’s the beauty of A Pixel Story, right there. You’re a Program in a wholly imagined game world. There is an evil Operating System trying to take over and it’s up to you, as the hero Program of the story, to reach The Core and save the world from destruction.
It’s a simple premise, one that Disney know fairly well, and sometimes the simpler they are, the more effective they’ll be. Of course, A Pixel Story has a few differences to the original Tron story. Instead of being a human sucked into the program world, you are a glitch in the system. You’ve been created to wield the most powerful object in the digital world, the Magical Hat.
Yes, the Magical Hat is your secret weapon and most frustrating it is. I’ll tell you why later. Your first task is to chase down a particularly irritating seagull to retrieve this Magical Hat. This serves to introduce you to the basics of the game mechanics and you’re helped by the advice and questionable humour of your occasional companion, Search. This odd little program pops in and out at specific points in the game to help the narrative along and provide some hints on button combinations to get around and over objects and platforms.
Once you’ve chased that seagull down and you have the Hat, A Pixel Story turns a slightly different card on you. The Hat, while being unmistakably Magical, offers the ultimate power of teleportation. Basically, you can drop the Hat, which will hang in mid-air, and a swift tap of the controller will teleport you back to that location. This is especially handy to solve some of the puzzles on offer, and there are a lot of devious platform conundrums to get around.
After a combination of particularly taxing platforms, switches and other dangers, you’re usually presented with a Map point. These serve the dual purpose of providing a handy directional hint for your current quest and being a save point for fast travel and spawning from when you die. And you will die. Lots.
One of the saving graces for A Pixel Story is that you’ve not got a fixed number of lives to lose during the game. It’s happily centred around the die and retry ethos. This is a good thing and a massively frustrating thing all at the same time. There are some levels and missions that you’ll breeze through, and there are some where you’ll feel like you’ve been stuck in the same place for all eternity. The mission entry to ‘The Registry’ springs to mind. It’s a falling nightmare of saw-lined paths and multiple deaths.
The deaths are usually well-presented though, with your hero de-rezzing into nothing. This is in keeping with the whole feel of the game. It starts off in an 8-bit environment and slowly charts the progress of gaming history in presentation. It’s a subtle but excellent feel to how things have and indeed are progressing in the gaming world. You’ll notice lots of inspiration in the backgrounds and platform styles throughout the game and they’re hugely complimented by the chip-tune soundtrack and sound effects.
A Pixel Story is remarkably easy to pick up. I only really had a problem getting my head around the physics of the teleportation to the Magical Hat. You can use jump aids to launch yourself and just as you start your upward curve, hit X to teleport and your momentum should continue. It takes some timing to do this, so don’t expect to pick it up immediately. It took me a few goes to get this anywhere near consistent but when you do, it’s fairly satisfying. The puzzles are very well thought out, with secret areas to unlock and large diamond-shaped Memory to collect to progress as well as the coins you’ll use to open up the secret places. You’ll usually have some sort of quest to complete in order to progress on to the next level or area. These are normally presented in the form of helping one of the resident programs in order for some form of reward. This, for some reason, reminded me hugely of the Dizzy series of games.
A Pixel Story is, in essence, a huge nostalgia trip, from the graduates at Lamplight Studios, wrapped in a brand new game. There are numerous reminders of titles that started it all and some that have continued to hold the flag aloft for years since. The graphics are a masterpiece of 8-bit and modern mashed together to produce what can only be described as a unique experience. The puzzles are devious enough to get you thinking but not impossible enough to force a rage-quit. A Pixel Story should appeal to gamers, old and new alike and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it as a fun and engaging platformer for all.