There seems to have been a glut of ‘retro’ based released by indie developers over the past few years with basic controls that really do hark back to the 8 and 16 bit gaming eras, a lot of these are easily forgotten but A Pixel Story seems to have something different that makes it stand out a little from the crowd, it not only takes inspiration from the history of video games but actually has you going through them as the game progresses. You play the part of the tennis ball from the original and classic Pong which has been upgraded thanks to being the ‘chosen one’. You then have to work through more and more complex puzzles to save the system from a dictatorship program that wants to control all of the systems applications. As far as story goes that is about it, it is simple and plays out like many classic titles.
Initially the game seems to be a fairly easy and funny affair, the humour is really good and certainly appeals to my nostalgic look on some of the old games I used to live. As you progress through the opening tutorial like stages it seems to be fairly difficult to die, especially as you take no damage from falls. The more you learn though the more the game opens up its enemies and hazards, all intent on stopping you from saving the system. It can be hugely frustrating in some sections as it seems to require near flawless execution of jumps and task in the right order just so you can progress to the next area, to achieve this you will have to die a lot using a trial and error method of finding out the way. Luckily you regenerate fairly nearby at one of the many checkpoints so whilst it will be hard you don’t spend too much time running back to where you were.
The initial challenge is to retrieve a sacred hat from the beak of a seagull, once you have this the game really opens up with the hat being crucial in helping you progress. The hat is used to teleport you across the screen. Find a jump that’s just that little bit too high? Leap up, place the hat at the peak of your jumping arc, then jump again and teleport as you leave the ground, using the increased height and fresh momentum to reach the top. It is simple in premise to use this magical hat but becomes challenging and difficult to progress through harder challenges later on. It requires you to think out side of the box to see how you can use the hat to get you to a certain platform or part of the screen, again trial and error can be used a lot before you make any real progress.
The main game in itself whilst difficult never feels too hard. The really difficult stages are in the side areas that can be opened up by collecting coins and keys, I found these really difficult and at times I spent too long trying to figure the puzzles out, these areas are certainly for people who love a challenge. For me the main game was a challenge enough striking the balance between fun and difficulty well enough to make me want to get through to the end. Although if you do keep dying the game will actually make it harder for you to progress sometimes tweaking the controls which throws you off meaning that it can really make you question if you want to actually carry on. It’s an odd mechanic for the game to have, normally a game helps you out to encourage you to carry on playing, at times it feels like this games wants you to rage quit.
The look and sounds of the game change as you progress, starting out as very basic pixelated graphics and bleeps and improving the further along you get. The resolution improves and the sounds and music in the game become more complex too; another nice feature that makes it feel like you are making real progress through the history of video games.
A Pixel Story is an initially fun game that, if you have the patience, improves to become something far different and more complex as you progress through the various levels and worlds. I enjoyed it but there is no denying that it can be frustratingly difficult to have the desire to get through to the end with the increase in difficulty and constant strive for perfection. It reminded me of some of the classic games I used to play through from the initial screen of a game of black and white Pong to more complex 2.5d platforming worlds by the end, and this really is the aim of the developers. Certainly worth a look for nostalgic gamers.
Reviewed on PC