UPDATE – 16/10/2020
We updated this review with our opinion of the Oculus Quest version of the game – you can check it out at the bottom of this review.
Let’s face it, I’m sure just about everyone remembers owning a handheld console of some sort when they were younger, whether it was the Nintendo Gameboy or just some knock-off ‘100-in-1’ device where 90% of the games were exactly the same. I’m sure people will remember trying to sneakily play said console whenever possible too, whether it be in bed at night when your parents think you’re sleeping, on the toilet (don’t try to deny it), or even in a classroom when the teacher isn’t looking.
Well, with Pixel Ripped 1989 you’ll get to do that last one all over again, but in a virtual reality environment that’s under threat by an evil villain and riddled with nods to the 80s. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Pixel Ripped 1989 is a virtual reality adventure with a unique twist: you’re playing a video game inside of a video game. When the evil villain Cyblan Lord attacks and wreaks havoc through video game hero Dot’s world, Dot goes to the high score board to find someone to help him. That someone just so happens to be Nicola, a young girl who absolutely loves video games. It’s up to Nicola to play through Dot’s adventure on her handheld gaming device, all whilst making sure her everyday life goes smoothly in the process. Of course, a spanner is thrown in the works when Cyblan Lord introduces himself to Nicola’s world…
The premise of Pixel Ripped 1989 alone had me intrigued, but the way it’s all presented in-game is so clever and neat that it’s hard not to find yourself totally absorbed into the charming experience. Actually being able to play a handheld and hold it right in front of you is undoubtedly unique, whilst the fact that there’s this whole world around you that’s full of little details and threats to be aware of just makes it all the more enjoyable. It’s the sort of thing that just wouldn’t be the same outside of virtual reality, and it shows that there are still plenty more unique ideas to come to virtual reality headsets outside of the tried-and-tested formula of wave-based shooters and puzzlers.
As mentioned, you’ll spend your time playing on a handheld console in Pixel Ripped 1989 – the game you’re playing is a simple 2D platformer that sees you running, jumping and gunning down enemies as you work your way past a ton of hazards through various levels. It’s actually pretty difficult (fitting for a retro-inspired platformer), though an unlimited amount of lives and plenty of checkpoints ensure you won’t get stuck on it for too long. It’s all cleverly controlled using the Dual Shock controller which essentially acts as the handheld console, which is a neat idea that helps engross you into the experience even more.
In honesty, whilst it’s fun it’s not exactly the most amazing little platformer you’re going to play. It didn’t need to be though, because it’s just one part of the gameplay experience – you’ve also got to take into consideration everything that’s going on outside of your handheld console.
The first example of this is found in the Classroom level, where you’ve got to play through the handheld platforming adventure without your teacher noticing what you’re doing. Luckily, you can distract her with a spitball straw – you’ll have to get creative with it though, because just launching spit-infused balls of paper at the teacher isn’t going to cut it. If you hit particular targets it actually makes for some interesting scenarios, one of which introduces a Brazilian football player… yeah, Pixel Ripped 1989 can be pretty weird at times.
It’s a level of the game that’s full of personality and charm with the whole environment feeling like a real classroom with kids around you getting on with everyday tasks and even interacting with the player. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t get on with it initially – everything felt a little awkward and having to focus on playing the game whilst avoiding the teacher’s glare was just a bit too difficult. It didn’t take long before I figured it all out though and found myself totally absorbed into the experience, with the blend of handheld platforming and stealth-puzzling proving a fantastic little combination.
The game doesn’t just take place in a classroom but spills over to other familiar areas too – however, I don’t want to spoil them all here. Pixel Ripped 1989 isn’t a massive game and a lot of its charm comes from seeing things for the first time, so reading about them and expecting them takes away from the experience a bit. Just know that the game certainly changes things up outside of the opening scenario and it does some clever things, especially when Cyblan Lord brings the battle to Nicola…
One thing that’s certainly worth mentioning though is all of the references to other video games and 80s culture that are found throughout the game. Some are in your face and others are a lot subtler, but noticing something that triggers a memory will certainly bring a smile to the face.
It only took me around three hours to get through Pixel Ripped 1989, though that was with a fair few failures along the way. There are hidden cartridges to find scattered across each level that add to the longevity, but outside of simply experiencing the whole thing again for fun, there isn’t a whole lot of replayability to the experience. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially since it’s neat to see everything again anyway, but those who expect a bit more bang for their buck might be disappointed given that the game costs $24.99 to purchase.
[Oculus Quest Version – Added 16/10/2020]
I’ve played different versions of the same game across multiple platforms and seen big some differences – sometimes the visuals are sharper, sometimes the controls are smoother, whilst other times they just perform a lot better. In Pixel Ripped 1989’s case though, it pretty much feels exactly the same across both the Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR.
Sure, the Oculus Quest can look a little sharper in places, but it’s a marginal difference for the most part and wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if you were unsure what platform to get the game on. You could argue that the controls feel more intuitive on PlayStation VR because of the controller-based nature of the games you play within Pixel Ripped 1989’s world too, though even they still feel great holding the Quest’s individual motion controllers.
There’s not a whole lot to say really – Pixel Ripped 1989 just feels as good to play on the Oculus Quest as it does on PlayStation VR. Whilst it’s certainly an inferior game when compared to its predecessor, it’s great to see that it has finally launched on the platform.
It’s a shame that it’s DLC only and you have to own Pixel Ripped 1995 to even play it, though the fact that it was out of the developer’s hand does mean it shouldn’t be held against the game too much. Still, there’s no harm owning both, right? Especially since they’re such high quality and unique releases that really play to the strengths of virtual reality.
I have a lot of love for Pixel Ripped 1989. Admittedly, from a gameplay perspective it isn’t the most refined title you’re going to play on PlayStation VR, but the whole thing is so unique and full to the brim with charm that it doesn’t matter. It never stops being fun throughout either, which is always the most important thing in a game like this. If you’re a kid of the 80s or if you love yourself a good nostalgic throwback, you really ought to give Pixel Ripped 1989 a try. It really does something that genuinely feels unique and entertaining, whilst its charm will ensure you’ve got a smile on your face right until the end credits.
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift