There are so many nostalgic characters from the yesteryear of gaming that always stick in my mind. We’ve got iconic heroes like Mario, Sonic, and Donkey Kong who are still starring in big releases today, whilst arcade icons like Pacman and Frogger will never be forgotten. Perhaps one character that you’d never expect to see make a big modern return is the ball from ‘Pong’… yes, you read that right – the pixel ball from ‘Pong’. That’s who stars in A Pixel Story, a lovingly crafted 2D generation-hopping platforming adventure from developer Lamplight Studios.
Don’t worry though, you don’t actually spend your time with the game playing as a pixel ball, but rather one that has been transported through the different ‘Generations’ of gaming and developed into a cute little dungaree wearing hero who’s equipped with a ‘Magical Teleportation Hat’. Declared the ‘Chosen One’, our pixel hero is tasked with saving the world (known as ‘The System’) from an evil, destructive OS known only as ‘The Operator’. This means travelling across various ‘Generations’ of gaming that are each represented through different graphical styles, a sort of visual history that shows how video game graphics have improved over the years.
The whole premise of A Pixel Story is so incredibly charming and unique that you won’t be able to help but be drawn into it. The ‘Generation’ hopping dynamic works really well, whilst old-school gamers like myself will be able to appreciate all the small changes that come with the gradual improvement of video game visuals. We’ve seem similar mechanics adopted by games like ‘Adventures of Pip’, but actually exploring these varying individual worlds that have been designed with a distinct style in mind is quite the treat.
A Pixel Story’s gameplay follows more along the lines of a puzzler as opposed to a traditional 2D platformer. Most of the game revolves around the aforementioned ‘Magical Teleportation Hat’ – your trusty piece of headwear that allows you to teleport back to any location that you place your hat. It’s a really clever mechanic and one I had a lot of fun using, plus the game makes sure to integrate it in a good variety of ways that you’ll constantly have to learn to adjust to. Much like titles like ‘Portal’, things like momentum need to be taken into consideration too – when trying to reach a particularly high platform you could place your hat just below it (your hat can be placed anywhere, even in midair), jump on a bouncing spring to pull off a higher leap, and then quickly teleport to carry that momentum into a much higher jump to reach the previously inaccessible platform. There are no combat mechanics in A Pixel Story, with most of the game instead revolving around using your hat in a variety of different ways to solve each enigma you come across.
Learning how to best utilise the hat makes up most of the game. You won’t just need to think outside of the box, but also have quick reactions too; sometimes you’ll need to make epic jumps, all whilst shifting the location of your hat, using jump pads, and quickly making sure you’re in a completely different position to avoid a hazard. It can be incredibly tricky at times, but also incredibly rewarding when you make your way through a tough section. Sometimes even the most simplistic of puzzles might seem impossible, but all you need is a clever thought process and you’ll realise the solution is right in front of you. A Pixel Story’s developers deserve some praise for providing puzzles that are incredibly well designed and never unfair, but offer enough challenge to keep you constantly tested.
Of course, there are plenty of hazards along the way that’ll bring plenty of failures upon the player. There are hazardous pits, pools of water (our pixely hero can’t swim it seems), ‘Super Meat Boy-esque’ spinning blades, dangerous fireballs – there’s plenty to stop you on your adventure, though it never hits levels of difficulty that frustrate. Thankfully there are plenty of checkpoints too, though some of them are in sketchy areas that force you to replay through some awkward puzzles all over again. Most of them are fine, but some will make you severely regret dying in the game – I suppose the solution would be to, uh-hum, ‘get good’. You don’t have to worry too much about the difficulty though, with A Pixel Story offering the right amount of challenge to keep you on your toes but constantly enjoying the experience.
I should probably mention that I found the main gameplay mechanics of the game didn’t offer anything particularly unique. Whilst I enjoyed playing A Pixel Story, there’s nothing here that I haven’t seen before – whilst the concept of being a hero made from a single pixel and using a hat to teleport is fresh, the gameplay that plays out along with it doesn’t really offer anything new. It’s not a problem, but don’t expect anything you wouldn’t have experienced before in other similar puzzle-platformers.
As you progress through A Pixel Story you visit different ‘Generations’ (essentially just levels) but all they really offer is an aesthetic change, with gameplay rarely changing up throughout the entirety of the game. There aren’t any new exceptional powers to learn – you’re essentially doing the same thing throughout the whole of the game, but in different ways. The gameplay is competent and puzzle design is good enough to keep you entertained, but I would’ve liked to have seen a few more obvious changes between generations, if only to add a bit of variety to the game. Maybe it’s just some subliminal message that despite games improving on a visual basis over the years, a lot of them just play the same…
At least each ‘Generation’ looks great though, with the progression from basic 16-bit designs to locales that look hand painted and utilising ambient lighting is fantastic. The variety of locations on show is impressive too – I’ve mentioned that gameplay doesn’t change up too much, but at least you’ll see plenty of different locales with areas like the peaceful green hills, mystical temples, and dangerous caves all a delight to explore. Each ‘Generation’ brings with it different levels of detail, which is something you’ll really come to appreciate as you see the game world progressively become more and more beautiful as you play on.
Besides the plethora of failures you’ll suffer that extend the game’s playtime, A Pixel Story has a bulk of extra content in the form of optional challenges that take place in areas off the beaten track. Some of these are incredibly tough, but the masochist inside of you will want to give them a shot. Skip over these optional extras though and it shouldn’t take too long to reach the game’s ending, though at a low price point there’s plenty of bang for your buck to be found with A Pixel Story.
A Pixel Story offers an enjoyable puzzling adventure that’ll keep you pleasantly perplexed from start to end. It never frustrates, instead offering well designed puzzles that don’t just require quick thinking, but also quick reactions – it blends puzzle solving and platforming together in a sublime way that constantly entertains.
It doesn’t really have anything you wouldn’t have seen before and a lack of variety as you progress through the game prevents it from hitting levels of greatness, but the fascinating and well designed world makes up for it. If you’re a fan of 2D platforming puzzlers, you definitely won’t want to miss out on A Pixel Story.
Developer: Lamplight Studios
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Release Date: 24/02/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC