Developer: Super Icon Ltd
Publisher: Super Icon Ltd
Platform: PC (STEAM) and Mac (Non-Steam)
Price: $6.99 USD
Release Date: October 22nd, 2014
It’s become apparent for some time that many of the Indie developers creating 2D platformers these days are longtime fans of classic videogames. From the visuals to the audio to the insertion of iconic references, these modern platformers always seem to insert an homage or two that celebrates the retro games of yesteryear.
Life of Pixel is a game that is built entirely around the nostalgia of retro gaming, which is hardly a unique concept nowadays, but does take a unique approach to how its nostalgia is represented.
While most of these retro premises are told through the point of view of a self-inserted player character, Life of Pixel’s story focuses instead on a singular pixel that has grown tired of its lack of individuality. By visiting the classic worlds of history’s consoles, Pixel hopes to find a place where it can be appreciated as an individual rather than being a mere cog in a bigger machine.
If that premise suggests a deep narrative here, let me stop you there; the opening narration is but a mere backdrop to the game’s simplistic goal, which is to explore the self-contained worlds of classic systems such as the Atari 2600 and the NES. At best, the story is more of a virtual museum tour of these classic systems, complete with specs and fact sheets for each machine. The game is less focused on Pixel and more an appreciation for these machines.
Despite the wide range of genres these classic consoles have covered over the last few decades, Life of Pixel sticks to a simple platformer premise already popularized by games like Super Meat Boy. The goal of each stage is to collect a certain amount of mini pixels to open the exit, while avoiding the usual perils like spiked pits and enemies. There are a few additional mechanics tossed in which are appropriate to the era that Pixel is visiting, such as drivable vehicles and wall-destroying bombs, but for the most part it’s all about precise jumping from platform to platform.
As is usually the case with retro homages, it seems more time was spent on the aesthetic side than the gameplay side; for the most part it plays like a basic 2D platformer, but a few quirks keep it from being a smooth experience. Chief among them is the double jump mechanic, which works slightly different from the common standard. Rather than achieving the maximum possible distance by jumping a second time during the height of the first jump, Life of Pixel instead requires you to jump just before the height of the original jump. It’s an odd change that requires some getting used to, and while it isn’t too difficult to get the hang of, it can throw accomplished players off balance.
The other mark against Pixel are the inconsistent rules; in some areas Pixel will have a lifebar that allows him to sustain a couple of hits, in other areas it’s entirely a one-and-done deal. This is not exclusive to certain console worlds, but something that can happen literally from one area to the next.
For the most part the gameplay works, but it lacks that extra punch that other 2D platformers exhibit, instead opting to play it safe with a few mechanical twists here and there along with a more finicky double-jump system.
Since the game is all about exploring historic consoles, it naturally features a specific sound design for each “world”. All the bleeps and bips sounds accurate to the original games of each console, though personally the NES chiptune music sounds a bit beyond the capabilities of that system.
The most appreciative thing, however, is the recreation of the SNES music. Few Indie titles have managed to copy the distinct chiptune effect of Nintendo’s 16 bit machine, but Life of Pixel pulls it off quite accurately. It’s an appreciated attention to detail, considering how some of the most beloved videogame soundtracks of all time came from the SNES.
The visual side is just as respectful to the original source material as the audio. Both Pixel and the stages are represented conceivably close to the style of each console world. This is why it’s recommended to tackle each world in order to better appreciate the evolution in graphics as players progress through each console in its historical order.
Life of Pixel is a lovingly-crafted museum tour of history’s most famous videogame consoles. The gameplay isn’t quite as polished, but is a decent enough distraction to have you wade through these retro worlds.
-Nostalgic trip through history’s most popular videogame consoles
-Unique visual styles appropriate for each console period
-Numerous secrets and collectibles
-Unwieldy double-jumping mechanics
-Frequent back-tracking upon death