Retro-inspired indies are all the rage yet few feel truly authentic. Pixel Heroes is a thoroughly old-school experience that'll grow on you as you get used to its strange world so grab a beer and let's go on an adventure!
Pixel Heroes begins with you having to choose a party of three folks from a selection of patrons of a bar. Right off the bat, you know that you're in for one quirky journey that doesn't take itself seriously. Upon finalizing your gang, a conspiracy theorist rushes in to tell you that it's the end of the world so it's time to explore the continent and discover just what the heck is going on. The visuals are superb with pixelated characters and environments that'll remind old-timers of PC games from the early '80s. Everything is colourful and bursting with life, too, which must be hard to accomplish with such basic graphics. However, the most enjoyable part of the presentation is the ridiculous sense of humour on display. As you move from town to a dungeon, you'll encounter many off-the-wall scenarios that'll likely make you laugh out loud. It all adds up to an unexpectedly engaging and fun-filled world that's hard to put down.
You play Pixel Heroes mostly by selecting menu options. The menus are thankfully very large which makes navigating them unambiguous. However, they're clearly made for touchscreens or PCs because getting used to how to navigate them with a controller takes quite a while. Anyway, the game progresses by accepting a quest at the town, heading out to a dungeon, working your way through the dungeon, fighting the dungeon's boss, trekking back to town, then claiming your reward. If your entire party bites the dust at any of these steps then you have to start the entire game again from the beginning. In order to increase your odds of success, you'll constantly optimize your party's equipment, assign level up points to base stats, and carefully conserve your supply of potions. Overall, its simple gameplay setup is rather addictive. That is, if you aren't too discouraged when your party suddenly perishes.
The battles are played by choosing either a weapon or skill for one of your party members during each turn. Next turn, that member can't act so it forces you to at least use two party members throughout each fight. After failing many times, you'll come up with promising strategies. For example, I had two members attack while the third was a healer who I always had on standby in case he was needed for some emergency medical attention. After playing for a few hours, you'll be surprised by the amount of enemy types, variety of equipment pieces, and how each boss requires a distinct strategy to take down. There is so much content that you can play for days and still discover new aspects. You'll even unlock more hero classes whenever you accomplish certain challenges. If the addictive nature of the gameplay wasn't enough, trying to acquire all of the heroes will keep perfectionists busy for quite a long time.
My biggest issue with Pixel Heroes is the fact that luck plays a huge role when it comes to success. Although this is expected when you're playing a roguelike, it can be a bit too much here. Sometimes upon starting a new game, my party would perish right near the beginning while other times, I could last a few quests with no problem whatsoever. Once, I had a very powerful party with high defensive stats and a boss killed each member with one or two hits each. I was playing with them for hours so you can imagine how disheartened I was when I saw the little grim reaper usher them to the afterlife one after the other.
Finally, Pixel Heroes has a strange problem with audio as it's just way too quiet. I have an awesome sound system yet I had to crank up my receiver higher than I ever have just to hear the music and effects. To prove how quiet it is, whenever an Xbox notification popped up, it was deafening. I looked through the options and there was no volume control so this problem is a complete mystery to me.
Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is such a charming, funny, and addictive retro RPG experience that it's a must-play for anyone looking for an old-school fun-filled adventure. If it sounds like your kind of ale then I'll see you at the bar!
- + Awesome retro visuals and sense of humour featuring loads of wacky scenarios
- + Simple and challenging gameplay
- + Loads of content to discover
- - Clunky menus take a while to get used to
- - Luck plays far too much of a role
- - Strangely, the audio is incredibly quiet