Fresh off of our review of the Xbox version of Gateways, we’re ready to tackle Pixel, another Portal-inspired indie title. This hybrid puzzler/shooter/platformer is the first Xbox title to be released by Toronto-based dev team Ratchet Game Studio. While combining those genres with a cel-shaded style exhibits some promise, ultimately a lot of the fun is derailed by frustrating bugs within the platforming.
In Pixel, players are challenged on each level to make it from the starting position to an end gate as fast as possible. In order to reach that destination, the platforms and columns around the player must be manipulated using a multi-purpose gun. Shooting some columns with your standard gun ability will cause those cubes to temporarily slide in one direction, giving the player a new path to travel down. Some paths are constantly moving, but can be slowed down using a special gun attachment. Other areas serve as launch pads that send the player flying through the air towards doom or glory. Certain platforms will only start moving once the player connects two nodes using yet another gun attachment. There’s a lot of variety to what the player can accomplish using their Swiss Army gun, and the game does a great job in terms of pacing when doling out new abilities or platform types. Each of these is introduced just as the previous one has been fully explored. In all, there are a couple dozen levels with the latter ones requiring players to use more than one of the abilities at their disposal.
While playing Pixel I was reminded of my experiences playing T.E.C. 3001 during last year’s Indie Games Uprising even,t or the various titles in the Super Monkey Ball franchise. Even though they are games with completely different themes, all of them challenge players to find the quickest path to the end of the stage. While racing the clock, the urge to keep plowing forward has the ability to lure the player into a bad situation. Sometimes when trying to be fast, the best thing a person can do is slow down and get a better view of what he or she is speeding into. That being said, there’s nothing quite so exhilarating within a platformer as just squeaking past a moving obstacle or nailing an impromptu leap all at breakneck speed. A smart decision by the developer was making sure everyone can get right back into the action when dying by dropping the player back at the start of the level without the need to acknowledge a retry prompt.
Sadly, there are a number of issues that rear their ugly heads throughout the game. Jumping a gap will often look like it’s going to succeed only for you to clip through a column or seemingly bounce off to the side of your intended landing spot. Sometimes firing your cannon at a cube beside you will send you careening off to your death, while performing the same action on an identical formation elsewhere won’t have that undesired effect. Pixel ends up being as much a guessing game as it is a platformer. For players with the patience of a saint, some of the hiccups can be worked around once they’re learned. This repeated trial and error of working through the game’s bugginess isn’t a big deal on the shorter levels. There are a few levels, though, where painstakingly creeping towards the goal only to be undone by one of these issues will likely result in a steady stream of profanities. I know it did for me. It’s a shame because when it does work, it’s actually a really fun game.
The other issue with the game is the camera. The first-person view just doesn’t feel right. Other reviewers have complained about the gun taking up too much of the screen real estate, but my biggest beef with the camera is that it’s just too close to the action. Navigating on small ledges and around tight corners causes undue grief with the camera zoomed in. It’s much harder to tell where the player is going to land when jumping, and that problem is only compounded by the aforementioned clipping issues. I understand that pulling the view out into 3rd-person would make the shooting aspect more difficult, but there has to be some kind of happy medium.
It’s a shame that the execution fell through on Pixel, because there were a number of things that were done right. The cel-shaded art style is simplistic, but it fits. Using the gun to trigger changes in the levels is fun to play with, though I wish it had been taken further. The bugs can’t be overlooked, however, because even though this game combines multiple genre elements, it’s platforming that dominates. While changing the camera at this point might be too radical of a change, going forward I would hope that at least the clipping issues get fixed. That would certainly go a long way towards restoring the joy that is supposed to go hand-in-hand with playing a game. Unfortunately, Pixel as it exists right now is an unsatisfying platforming experience for the two to four hours it’ll likely take most players to complete it.
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