A Pixel Story Review
Reviewed on PC
Retro gaming has never been as popular as it is now, and to satisfy gamers harkening for the old days, A Pixel Story comes leaping into the breach. This is a charming, 2D puzzle-platformer which throws together a hundred old games into a single mishmash without ever losing sight of its own identity, with nods to dozens of old franchises and movies. It does many things extremely well and will prove satisfying to most people who pick it up, but it relies a little too heavily on nostalgia to give it heart and thus fails to reach the very top of its genre.
In A Pixel Story, you’ll find yourself playing as an unnamed program who is basically the ball from Pong transformed into an anthropomorphic figure. You are “The Chosen One” who must defeat the tyrannical Operator and restore peace and balance to the system. Any movie buffs – or indeed, anyone who has been to the cinema in the last thirty years – will have probably picked up on the similarities here to such films as The Matrix and Tron, and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. It’s not merely retro video games that A Pixel Story enjoys referencing, but pretty much the entirety of pop culture.
In order to bring about your stated goal, you’ll have to travel through four generations of gaming – in effect, four different worlds – beginning with the highly-pixelated and simplistic, and ending up in the crisp and futuristic. This evolution in the graphics is a nice touch, and one which is mirrored by the music and sound, too. Your Program’s appearance changes as well, gaining extra details as he progresses, and the result is a very real sense of progressing through a computer system which has increased in complexity over the years.
It’s a pity, however, that there isn’t really much more to the story than what has already been mentioned. There are a fair few characters along the way, and they are all well written – and, indeed, quite funny – but your objectives are rarely anything more complex than making your way from one end of a generation to another. The obstacles along your way include death-defying drops, old defence systems, malfunctioning gates, and a whole host of fiendish puzzles – but there’s no impetus to overcome them except that they are in your way and you’ve been told that you need to get past them. A little more thought given to the plot could have been a big boon to A Pixel Story, but as it is, it merely serves its purpose rather than being a major draw.
Fortunately, the gameplay goes a long way to making up for this fact, and will make you want to keep playing. Anyone longing for the old days of Mario will be pleased to find themselves bouncing from platform to platform, navigating a variety of puzzles which can require a substantial amount of brain power to solve. Your Program also wears a suspiciously familiar floppy red cap, but in this case it’s one which has special powers. Leave it somewhere, and you can subsequently warp straight back to it, either as a safety measure for when things go horribly wrong or (more commonly) as part of the solution to a puzzle.
Solving the problems that A Pixel Story throws at you is no walk in the park, and many of them will require both careful thought and timely button pressing to get past. They are cleverly put together and largely physics based; if you’re unable to make a gap in a single bound, for example, you can leave your hat at the apex of the jump and warp to it as you start a second one, effectively using it as a new starting point. This sort of gameplay, which was massively popularised by Portal, never grows old, and you’ll never tire of figuring out new ways to put your hat to good use.
Unfortunately, there can be a large element of trial and error to the puzzle-solving, which can be somewhat taxing. This is particularly problematic in sections which are supposed to be fast-paced; what should be some of the most exciting sections of the game are slowed down and made frustrating by awkward moments requiring you to try, die, and repeat, until you make it all the way to the end. This tends to make the pacing a little clunky and, with the largely uninvolving events of the plot, leaves the game floundering at certain points.
That said, there are many more good elements to A Pixel Story than there are bad, and it’s therefore a plus that there’s plenty of content to it. The main story takes approximately eight to ten hours to complete, but there’s enough other material along the way that you can get lost in it for a good many more. Solving mini-puzzles as you go rewards you with gems which increase your memory and unlock lore, and there are coins scattered throughout each level to collect. These can then be spent to access extra areas and the challenges within; here you’ll find puzzles far more devilish than anywhere else. All told, the game represents good value for money, no matter whether the bonus material appeals to you or not.
If there’s one thing that’s not in doubt, it’s that A Pixel Story is immensely good fun and will leave you with a smile on your face. It’s bright and colourful, beautifully presented, with great gameplay and so many nods to old films and video games that you’ll be left wondering how it keeps itself from bursting at the seams. What it’s really lacking is a true spark of individuality, a single unique element to make it explode off the screen and grab your attention. It ends up relying too much on nostalgia to tug at your heart strings, rather than trying do it itself. There’s a very good chance that you’ll love A Pixel Story as much as we did, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing it was slightly more than it is.