Friday, July 16, 2010

Four Quarter Friday - Pixelkiller

One of my favorite web games is Vacuum Flower's Star Guard. It's fun, easy to understand and get in to, has a lot of depth for a short and free game, ramps the difficulty WAY up for its hard mode, and can provide hours upon hours of replayability. So let's get the obvious out of the way first: Pixelkiller is about as influenced by Star Guard as a game can possibly be, from the control to the art design and even down to having a little of the narrative displayed as part of the background. But how's the rest of the game?

Pixelkiller is a side-scrolling platformer that puts your blocky character on a hostile planet and gives him a gun. And if that's wrong, I don't wanna be right. Your character moves, jumps, and shoots an endless supply of ammo at whatever aliens wander his way while dodging whatever bullets and occasional rockets they throw back at you all in an effort to find the exit. Most of the time you'll follow a pretty linear path to the little green door but occasionally you'll have to explore a bit to find your way to the next level. And, other than finding some hidden paths and coins, that's about it for what you'll be doing in Pixelkiller.

Like I said, this game copies a lot from Star Guard, including a lot of its aethetic. The levels are white lines on a black background, the bullets are tiny, and everything is pretty minimalistic. It does its job, but unlike with Star Guard it does feel a little TOO minimal when you look at it on a larger screen. Outside of personal preference, though, there is a slight problem with looking at a larger stage and wondering where you need to go. I think a better approach would have been taking the platforms and walls and hit "fill" with some white or gray rather than leave them empty. The winding corridors get a little too confusing as it is. There's a little bit of atmospheric music but considering the amount of noise that firing, jumping, and the ever-often dying makes you can barely hear anything else.

The controls are as simple as can be. Move left and right, jump, and shoot. Later in the game you get a double jump, which ends up being the only spot where I had some major complaints. Walking off an edge sometimes didn't allow you to use your second jump while other times it did, which led to more than a few frustrating and unexpected deaths, which are thankfully not too traumatic due to the frequent (yet unmarked) checkpoints. Otherwise, the only other minor thing was my usual disappointment with the "one height only" jump. In games like this, though, it can work as long as level design and obstacles complement it, which happens here.

Pixelkiller's similarities to Star Guard, unfortunately, do end with the look, feel, and control of the game. As I played through this, I was hoping for some epic showdown with a larger-than-life boss at the end of the game. Instead, the game does the exact opposite. They make it so you don't have to go back to a checkpoint if you die. So, aside from seeing a triple-digit death count at the end of the level, there's literally no challenge or drawback present in running through stage 10. The last level would be a virtual hell if it weren't for the no-respawn ability but, to be honest, that challenge is one of the things that make the game stand out, and taking it away feels like an amputation. Of the head.

In the end, the game lasts roughly an hour and, even though some of the level and enemy designs led to some seriously difficult moments, in the end Pixelkiller fails to capture the same feel and charm of its free-to-play PC inspiration. That isn't to say the game is bad as I did enjoy a lot of the game, but if anyone is expecting Star Guard 2 they'll be sorely disappointed. Especially with the final level.

Pixelkiller is available on XBox Live for 80 MSP. Played first nine levels to completion, then pretty much walked through the tenth one and "died" 119 times.

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