Life of Pixel

Update: Life of Pixel received a Second Chance with the Chick and is now Chick ApprovedClick here for the updated review

Indie gaming fans keep asking me to look outside of Xbox Live Indie Games for material to do my reviews on.  However, my loyalty remains with XBLIG, so I only hit up other platforms when I’m suffering from complete and total burnout of XBLIG due to the endless mountain of shit that populates the platform.  That’s the only time I look elsewhere.

So um..

Let’s see what’s on PlayStation Mobile this week, shall we?  What have we here?  A Super Meat Boy-esq punisher with the hook being you’re a pixel who journeys through gaming history?  Interesting.  Of course, I’ve already played a game where you journey through game history, and if that one had been any bigger a disaster they would have to scrub the Titanic from history books just to make room for it.  However, as a concept, a stroll through gaming history is not only sound, but enticing.  That’s why I chose to pick up Life of Pixel, even though it’s one of those godforsaken punishers.

Life of Pixel

Looks Atarishi, I guess.

I want to start by saying that artistically, Life of Pixel is mostly a triumph.  The eight worlds presented authentically capture the look of each era they pay tribute to.  I’m guessing at least.  Some of the platforms covered are vintage UK-only PCs such as the Spectrum or the 2X81, along with such American relics as the Commodore 64.  As an American born in 1989, I have never touched those platforms, nor do I plan on it.  But, comparing screenshots to games from those devices, they look spot-on.  However, no effort at all was made for the games to sound like their respective platforms.  There’s a single awful chip-tune that plays no matter which era you’re in, and all stages make the same bleeps and bloops.  Why go so far to look authentic but not sound authentic?  It makes no sense at all.  It would be like having the most accurate-looking Elvis impersonator on the planet performing hip-hop.

Where the game falls apart completely is level design.  There is cheap design, and then there is Life of Pixel.  Every bad possible design choice is given center-stage here.  Leap of faith platforming, blind jumps, no checkpoints in slow-paced large levels, erratic enemy movement, and an overall sense that the game really wants you to not have a good time playing it.  It ultimately comes across like a poor Super Meat Boy clone.  The main character even looks like Super Meat Boy.  But this is yet another case of a developer not grasping why that game was so popular.  Nothing in Super Meat Boy was unfair.  It required little to no guess-work from the player.  And dying wasn’t so bad because levels were fast paced and respawning was quick.  Plus, death was sort of rewarded by the fact that you got to see a replay of all your failures play out simultaneously at the end of each stage.  The only reward in Life of Pixel is seeing a new graphics style when you open a new world.  A novelty that wears off on average in about 11.3 seconds each time you get a new world.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I've seen on XBLIG, so I'm not sure how close this is to the real thing.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I’ve seen on XBLIG, so I’m not sure how close this is to the real thing.

I can’t even complain about the controls really.  They’re mostly accurate, and offer non-slippery controls and decent jumping physics.  100% of Life of Pixel’s problems are level-design related.  The game is cheaper than a dime store whore and seems to revel in that fact.  There are one or two other design flaws.  Early stages are single-screen affairs, and during these the game is quite fun.  But once you get to the Spectrum era, the game does that thing where you have to walk to the edge of the screen to scroll the level over, and it scrolls a full screen at a time.  The game doesn’t pause while it does that scroll thing, and so if you have to jump to a platform, it’s a forced blind jump that often will result in your death.  It’s something that is horrible and cheap for the sake of being horrible and cheap.  Later stages avoid the “scroll a full screen at a time” design in favor of smoother scrolling, but the level design never strays away from “be as cheap as possible.”

There’s also spikes that retract into the walls only to pop out again.  These are weird because you can walk over them as long as they are like 75% buried in the ground.  It makes getting the timing down of when you can make a run for it nearly impossible.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just have the spikes retract and pop up faster than they did, except again, because it’s aggravation just for the sake of being aggravating.  Finally, sometimes dying is a slow process.  In the best punishers, death and respawning happen quickly.  Here, if you land in water (or quicksand), you slowly sink down and have to wait for your character to reach the bottom, linger for a bit, and then blink out of existence.  It’s absolutely amazing that a game that so clearly wants to be Super Meat Boy could end up getting wrong every single thing that made Super Meat Boy the beloved cult hit that it is.  Bad level design, lack of rewarding gameplay, blind jumps, slow deaths, and boring, sprawling levels.

Don't worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Don’t worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Yea, maybe trial-and-error platforming was a big deal thirty years ago, but we’re in 2013 now.  100% authenticity was obviously not a priority for Life of Pixel, as evidenced by the half-assed sound, so why make the game so cheaply frustrating?  I’m so pissed off because these guys obviously had talent.  There’s no way they could make a game that looks this good and controls this acceptably just by sheer fucking luck.  So what happened guys?  Why did you choose to make your game so unfair and unlikable that it’s almost certain to never catch on by word of mouth?  The amount of potential squandered here makes me want to cry.  And by the way, my friends are disappointed that there’s no Life of Pi reference here, but I disagree, because this game proves there is no God.

logoLife of Pixel was developed by Super Icon Ltd

$1.99 searched for a Life of Pixel trailer on YouTube and instead found a video series about a little girl named Pixel in the making of this review.  Who the hell would name their daughter Pixel?  I look forward to meeting her siblings, Polygon and Bit-Mapping. 

In all seriousness, I couldn’t find any gameplay footage of this on YouTube.  If someone finds some, give me a heads up.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

9 Responses to Life of Pixel

  1. Tim Roast says:

    “Spectrum or the 2X81”

    That should be ZX81, but you are forgiven because it was around before you were born, plus in a different country.

    “But once you get to the Spectrum era, the game does that thing where you have to walk to the edge of the screen to scroll the level over, and it scrolls a full screen at a time.”

    That reflects the spectrum era.

    “Why did you choose to make your game so unfair and unlikable that it’s almost certain to never catch on by word of mouth?”

    They might get some word of mouth among the retro crowd, without them even having to play it first.

  2. CJ says:

    The word pixel is totally overused. I ignore ALL games that have the word PIXEL in their title, that don’t have a character or enemy the size of a pixel IN IT. That’s like the title of a game being called First Person Shooter, but there’s no FPS (or even FP!) gameplay. Authors of such games that have such titles need to be pushed through a meat grinder, feet first. :/

    And why is Super Icon’s website so shitty? When you actually try to find more details about their games, you just end up wasting your time. 😦

  3. SuperIcon says:

    We designed Life of Pixel to be as close to an old 8-bit experience as possible. We were not trying to mimic modern platformers such as Super Meat Boy. Also unless you have a fondness for those old machines I have to admit you probably won’t get Pixel – we tried to stay as faithful as possible so it does require a degree of positive nostalgia for the machines.

    We ran out of time and financial resources (this kind of explains things – http://www.supericon.co.uk/our-vita-development-experiences/) so unfortunately the sound wasn’t as good as we’d have liked.

    However – for PSM owners we are working hard… – we are working on a forthcoming update for Pixel.

    Audio wise we are adding new machine specific sound fx (using samples/emulation of each machine), a music track per machine (again tailored to each machine’s sound chip).

    Plus a brand new machine with 8 new secret levels (Sega Master System) and a few other tweaks and enhancements. We’ll also tweak some of the levels to reduce some of the leaps of faith.

    With regards to our website – the pictures on the main page link directly to each game page. If you let us know where it is causing issues we’ll certainly look to improve it. The description ” why is Super Icon’s website so shitty? When you actually try to find more details about their games, you just end up wasting your time.” was a bit vague 🙂

    • “We’ll also tweak some of the levels to reduce some of the leaps of faith.”

      Sounds good. That caused 90% of my attitude against Life of Pixel. Read my FAQ and when the game is patched to your satisfaction, issue a Second Chance with the Chick challenge. No developer is turned away from getting a second chance review here.

    • CJ says:

      SuperIcon, everything’s all over the goddamn page! Clean that shit up! 😀

      Haha, seriously though, when someone looks at your website, the best way to engage them is to minimize the amount of clicks it takes them to get to a specific part. In some areas the website is pretty good. I don’t want to view a larger version of your title cards by the way, I just wanna know more about your projects! 🙂 Not only that, you don’t have a lot of details for them. Yes you have a photostream, but it’d be nice if you just had 3 screens and a Youtube link on each page, which is more than enough. And faster loading on your site wouldn’t hurt, but it seems as though you’ve got too many/too intensive gadget(s) on there, and I think some simple HTML would’ve suffice. 🙂

  4. Steve Tack says:

    In case anyone cares, the Sinclair ZX81 was definitely available in the US.

    My first PC was a ZX81. I mowed neighbors’ lawns all summer to save up after seeing a two-page ad in Popular Science and drooling. Yeah, I was “that guy.” So yeah, there was a US version with a US power adapter and NTSC output. A year later Timex (of all things) did a joint venture with Sinclair and they came out with the Timex Sinclair 1000 – the same thing, but with double the memory. That is, it had 2K of RAM! I seem to recall that department stores sold those.

    The crazy thing was the thick manual that came with the ZX81. It actually taught you how to program in BASIC! Compare that with the manual that came with my last laptop, which was just a card with some pictures on it that told you how to plug it in.

    Anyway, the idea of emulating that for a game sounds painful. That thing was unbelievably limited. Well, unless you had the 16K expansion module of course.

  5. Rik Swift says:

    The Speccy graphics are spot on but where’s the attribute clash? Surely it’s the defining characteristic of the machine. Also the game loads too fast. It should take four-and-a-half minutes at least. Fucking amateurs.

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