Retro-inspired indies tread a fine line between being too old-school and offering an enjoyable modern take on the classics. A Pixel Story is an ambitious adventure but does it live up to its ancestors?
A Pixel Story stars a little pale chum who's on a mission to stop an evil operating system from destroying his world. He wears a magic red hat, overalls, a yellow cape, and white gloves which should be strikingly familiar for anyone who played Super Mario World. Throughout the journey, you'll experience a progression in both gameplay and visuals which is supposed to represent the evolution of video games. It reminded me of Adventures of Pip in that both games incorporate an evolving retro gaming theme. However, the progression in A Pixel Story is so slight that you almost have to pay attention to notice it. The graphics get somewhat more detailed and a few gameplay twists are added to the equation but nothing is drastically different throughout. I'd say the visuals evolve from about 1992 to 1995. This novel concept aside, let's look at the gameplay and explore if this is a story worth playing.
You control A Pixel Story's hero by running and jumping (obviously) and as the campaign progresses, you'll learn additional moves that help introduce a puzzle element. For example, you can leave your red hat suspended in mid-air then immediately warp to it by the tap of a button. Besides simple puzzles such as warping to the other sides of lasers, you can take advantage of the hero's momentum. If you jump up and to the right then warp to your hat, you'll continue to move in that direction. This opens up a whole realm of platforming possibilities. Unfortunately, the majority of the campaign consists of using this one mechanic over and over again. Sure, there are other aspects but the developers must have loved momentum-based hat-warping because that's mostly all you ever do.
On the plus side, there are plenty of other mechanics at play although they are underutilized. One example is that later in the campaign, you'll be able to record your actions into drones. On a grander scale, each one of the handful of levels is quite massive and can be a lot of fun to explore. As you traverse the lands, you'll discover tons of rewarding content such as mini-games, side-quests, and hidden treasures. Maybe you'll even have what it takes to uncover an Easter egg or master all of the super-tough challenge rooms. It all adds up to an enjoyable blend of gameplay elements even if certain aspects are relied upon more than others.
A Pixel Story's world is quite lively as it boasts many different environments and NPCs that are great fun to interact with. You'll come across plenty of game references that range from obvious to rather humorous and the cute visuals add a layer of lightheartedness to the serious journey at hand. That being said, I found some parts to be extremely ambiguous. Sometimes, I'd fall through the floor because I thought that a line was solid but it was just part of the background. Other times, the exact opposite would happen as I'd expect to fall down yet just keep moving forward. Seeing as you can't jump down from platforms, this can get especially annoying.
For a game that models its main character after Mario, it's surprising how stiff its hero jumps. Even the very first Super Mario Bros. allowed you to jump a little by tapping the button and higher when you hold it down. The hero here jumps the same no matter how long you push the button which is extremely problematic in certain areas (like ones with spiky ceilings). Another irritating aspect is how springboards are handled. In Sonic the Hedgehog games, springboards usually send you directly to where you want to go. In A Pixel Story, you basically have to say a prayer whenever you step on one because being able to control yourself in mid-air so you can land on a tiny platform can be ridiculously difficult. It's a shame because this would be an otherwise great experience.
A Pixel Story is a promising retro tale but it fails to live up to the classic games that it's clearly inspired by. You'll likely have fun in its colourful world but don't expect it to last as long as the journey itself.
- + Enjoyable mix of platforming, physics-based puzzles, exploration, and quests
- + Lively world and cute graphics
- + Plenty of fun content to discover
- - Jumping is far too stiff while springboards are frustratingly finicky
- - Graphics can be ambiguous
- - Gameplay is mostly unvaried and stale