A Pixel Story PS4 Review: A Few Pixels Too Late

by David Sanchez March 11, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

When A Pixel Story launched last year on PC, review scores were all over the place. The game received just about as many high marks as it did average reviews and low scores. Here we are one year later, and the indie project from Lamplight Studios is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s a fine addition to both of those platforms’ indie libraries if you fancy a good ol’ puzzle-platformer, but it also feels tragically late to the party.

The entire time that I played A Pixel Story, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a game that I should’ve played anywhere between 2008 and 2010, around the beginnings of the indie boom. The game is beautiful, with amazing pixel art used throughout. It’s also got a bit of humor. And it’s even fun at times. But there are barriers placed ever so questionably all over the entire package that keep it from being the great indie puzzler it could’ve been.

You play as a silent yet charmingly designed protagonist, a pixel ripped from a game of Pong that’s now tasked with saving a computer world from a malicious operating system. It’s a simple setup, but it allows for the game to take you through various “generations.” As you travel from generation to generation, the game’s graphics become more advanced.

The change in visuals is, thankfully, not jarring in any way. It all happens organically, and because there’s a reason for the shift, the gradually updated graphics never feel tacked on or forced. Instead, you feel like you’re being transported to a new generation right alongside the hero character.

Unfortunately, while I could go on and on about how much I love the aesthetic design of A Pixel Story — because this game really is freakin’ beautiful to look at — I can’t say I feel the same way about the gameplay design. Yes, there are some things I really enjoyed about the mechanics while playing, but other things just bothered me and made it difficult to press on in my quest to save the computer system.

Gameplay in A Pixel Story is constantly interrupted, and this creates a real problem. What I love about a lot of indie games is that they often trade in the pacing problems that big budget releases suffer from for straight-up, nonstop gameplay. Cave Story, Super Meat Boy, Superhot, Inside. These are all games that, yes, have a story going on, but they never rip you out of the gameplay experience long enough to dissuade you from playing. A Pixel Story, sadly, continuously goes out of its way to do exactly that.

As I played, there was nothing more frustrating than having to deal with long-winded banter from NPCs when all I wanted to do was solve puzzles, discover secrets, and see more of the game world. These occurrences were frequent enough that I felt not just annoyed, but also disappointed. This was especially an issue when it seemed like the game was finally going to leave me to my own devices, only to have a character pop up out of nowhere with some explanation about a mission that never really needed such a lengthy description to begin with.

Speaking of slowing things down, another issue I had with A Pixel Story was the movement of the player character. I don’t need a dash button in every single game I play, but a little extra speed behind the character movements would’ve definitely been a plus here. Instead, the adventure is bogged down by sluggish animations and controls.

It’s a shame that A Pixel Story didn’t resonate with me, because this is the type of game I would’ve totally loved back in 2010 when I was just getting into indies. There’s some really cool stuff there, no doubt, like being able to use your Mario-esque hat to teleport short distances in order to solve switch- and platform-based puzzles. And a lot of the platforming is genuinely enjoyable. There’s just too much keeping the high moments from ever truly shining.

Part of me is glad I played A Pixel Story because it reminded me of an earlier time when indie games like this were just barely making their way into the fold. But another part of me is disappointed, because for a game that often feels like a classic, there are too many glaring problems keeping it from ever becoming one.

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