A Pixel Story Review
A Pixel Story is a platforming adventure loaded with cheeky humour, magic hats and retro charm. It’s also proper hard, making me so mad my neighbours probably heard me cursing out my television. If you can’t enjoy a game without some whitening of the knuckles, this will be right up your alley.
You play a pixel (the title is pretty literal) tasked with saving the System from a malicious, overbearing Operator. You’re proclaimed as the chosen one by the first person you meet, given a magic hat and sent off to save the world. The writing shines right from the start, with programming and computer jokes sprinkled generously among the dialogue. A Pixel Story is also up front about the challenge in store. Just getting the magic hat presented ample opportunities for deep breaths and spiked adrenaline.
“Although I was ultimately bested by the game’s brutal difficulty, I can still recognize the excellent design philosophy at work here.”
Your time with A Pixel Story is split into four generations. Each one comes with distinct graphics, audio and animations. The game only gets prettier as you go, rewarding players for their persistence and dedication in overcoming the steadily escalating challenges in store. The game’s dialogue consistently delivers, with chuckle-worthy lines coming frequently. The short cutscenes come as moments of relief in between the brutal stages. The evolution of the aesthetic occurs alongside the player’s own evolving skillset. It’s an interesting effect, wherein the game gets better as you do, at least in terms of presentation.
A Pixel Story’s crown jewel is also the source of the most frustration: the level design. The puzzles put together here are fiendishly clever. Every time I got stuck, it felt like an impossible obstacle to overcome. “This is it. This is as far as I can possibly go.” When you finally make the precise set of moves that gets you to the next checkpoint, you feel like a genius. Just for a second, though. After that comes another bloodsucking challenge. On that note, there are a host of side quests available, extra stages that let you test your skills. I was utterly defeated by these little rooms. Every single one pushes the difficulty level just that much higher than the main game. If you’re a diehard platforming enthusiast, these side dishes will be a godsend. For me, they were a mournful, humbling experience. The very first challenge room was like picking a fight with a grain thresher. The nice thing about this game is that as hard as it gets, it rarely feels unfair. There were times when I was trying to move as fast as possible, only to have a slight misstep see me dissolved in the arc of some merciless energy beam. If you can truly master the controls though (and you pretty much have to), the gameplay experience is butter-smooth.
Your primary power lies with the hat. Using the hat allows you to set a bookmark of sorts, a cache point you can instantly return to with the touch of a button. Lamplight stretches this power to its fullest extent, forcing you to cache your way through dastardly puzzles of ever-increasing difficulty. Sometimes the trick is merely figuring out what the solution is supposed to be. This is followed by a second extended sequence involving you executing that solution successfully. The system is grueling, but fairly balanced. You never feel like the game is totally impossible, just harder than you can handle. Even that’s something you can overcome with patience and determination.
If I had any real grievances, it would be with the controls. It’s hard to know whether this problem is just me failing to perfect the inherent mechanical systems, or an issue with the game’s design. The missteps I mentioned previously happened with some regularity. I knew precisely what needed to be done, yet some combination of my clumsy hands or the slightly imprecise controls had me hurtling to my doom. In all likelihood, this is a deliberate design choice, a way to ensure the player must move to the rhythms intended by the designers. Still, it had a measurable impact on my play experience.
Overall, I can easily recommend A Pixel Story. Although I was ultimately bested by the game’s brutal difficulty, I can still recognize the excellent design philosophy at work here. The clever writing, the carefully segmented aesthetic, the level design and even the challenge are well-crafted and precise. I took personal issue with some elements of the controls, but this was not enough to turn me off. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back and bash my head against my most recent sticking point, just to see if I can push past that plateau. If you have any interest in the new platforming renaissance, A Pixel Story will treat you well. I mean, not well. The game will torture you with childish glee and expect your thanks for the privilege. But you’ll definitely have fun.
***An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher***
- Clever level design
- Smart writing
- Well-crafted graphics
- Sadistically hard
- Punishing controls
- Will damage relations with your neighbors