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‘A Pixel Story’ review: a magical journey through gaming history

is the work of UK-based and BAFTA nominated indie game developers, Lamplight Studios. The 2D platformer takes the history of gaming and masterfully turns it into a fantastic fictional saga through the technological evolution of games. From the primitive and pixelated days of Pong to the vivid and seemingly futuristic days of the present, it takes you on a heart warming journey of innocence, discovery and triumph.

A Pixel Story is another testament to the creativity that is born from the indie game industry. In a gaming world where every title seems to be a slightly altered version of the previous, A Pixel Story provides a refreshingly unique and distinctive experience that challenges the current state of gaming.

There is no sign of the Pay-to-Win scourge and the only DLC is the game’s original soundtrack (written and produced by Yuki Kurihara “Bitamin”). To me, it serves as the antidote to everything that’s presently wrong with the gaming industry.

Now let us delve deeper into the magical world of A Pixel Story.

Story Time

Your journey starts with a match of Pong. Naturally.

The ball floats from one side to the other as it hits the strategically moving paddles. But then the game starts glitching and suddenly the ball disappears. That ball is you.

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You then find yourself traversing through foreign but wonderful worlds, as if seeing existence from a new dimension. Finally, your uncontrollable journey comes to a halt and you are now hovering in the grasp of a tractor beam.

The machine starts emanating a strange sound and you can feel yourself taking on a new form. Other pixels like you start wrapping themselves around the shape of your body, slowly becoming a part of you. By the end of it you have grown strange limbs, which you would later come to know as arms and legs. Then darkness.

You awake to the sound of a voice: “Wake up… we can’t be wasting cycles having a jolly on the beach. The system won’t save itself.”

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You don’t realise it then, but from this very moment you start an entirely new life and there is no turning back. You have been chosen as the champion to save The System from the evil clutches of the ominous Operator.

A Pixel Story boasts a childlike yet powerful narrative that relies on benevolent themes rather than malevolent ones. You will commit no murder, witness no deaths and not speak a single word of hate. OK, honestly, you don’t speak at all but that is beside the point.

The world that the developers have created is delightfully eccentric while still being totally believable. It is littered with a plethora of characters that are remarkably vivid for their pixelated nature. The story takes many elements from the world of game design and its historical technological advancements and weaves it into an incredibly immersive and in-depth adventure.

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The world you are exploring is called “The System”. Your main adversary, as a game character, is “the Operator”. You have to collect “memory” to advance into the next “generation”, just how the ability for gaming systems to utilise more and more memory lead to great graphical progression. The deeper your knowledge of gaming technology the deeper your appreciation will be for the depth that that the creators have put in this game.

Your adventure will take you through the four main generations of gaming, each with its own fantastically unique atmosphere. For those who lived and played through these generations, A Pixel Story will almost certainly be a nostalgic adventure back into your youth. For the rest it will undoubtedly be one of the best ways to experience the evolution of gaming.

But beyond the captivating narrative that takes place in a marvellously constructed in-game world, the game play is both challenging and rewarding and perfectly completes A Pixel Story’s engaging experience.

Play Time

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At its core A Pixel Story is a 2D side scrolling platformer with various puzzle elements that will take you about 5-6 hours to complete, depending on your skill in the genre. Even though it takes you through the four historical generations of gaming, the focus lies more with graphical innovation than game play.

In essence the game play will be quite repetitive with few major additions throughout the entirety of the game. But these game play elements will be used to different effect as you progress further into the story.

As with any platformer you will be doing a lot of strategic jumping. You will have to jump over gaps, avoid fireballs and navigate many obstacle courses that will severely test your mental vision and sense of timing (I must admit that there were a few bits where I needed to consult the oracle of Google for advice).

One game play feature that did bring quite a unique approach was the addition of a magical teleportation hat (that has a striking resemblance to the one found on Mario’s head). This magical hat, as its name suggests, will give you the power of teleportation and will often be needed to advance further.

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This hat can be dropped any place your character is able to reach. This will then serve as your teleportation destination. Then, no matter where you are, with the press of a button you will be instantly teleported towards the hat. Another aspect that I found very entertaining was that any momentum you carried before the teleportation will be carried over to your target destination.

So for instance, if the surface of a platform is too high to reach with a normal jump then you can jump and release the hat at the peak of your jump. Then when you jump again and immediately press the teleportation button the height of your jump will be added to the height of your hat, effectively making your jump twice as high. This action will be used in a wide variety of situation, which you will witness once you play the game (‘cause you just have to).

Whenever you “die” in the game you will respawn at certain checkpoints that will also serve as your map viewing points. This is where one problem comes in that I often found really frustrating.

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At a lot of challenging parts in the game where I regularly failed before I got the hang of the puzzle, the respawn point was some distance away from the actual puzzle.

So every time I died I would have to navigate my way back to this point before attempting the puzzle again. In my experience I found it quite discouraging that I couldn’t just jump straight back into the puzzle and I am certain I will not be alone in thinking so.

But other than that I did not find much wrong with the game and I think it is a title that deserves a lot of recognition.

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Release Date: 30 March 2015
Developers: Lamplight Studios
Engine: Unity
Genre: 2D puzzle platformer
Playthrough Time: 5-6 hours
Platform: PC (review platform), Linux & Mac (via Steam)

Verdict: A Pixel Story was an amazing experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a captivating narrative, amusing characters and a beautifully creative in-game world, three things I always look out for in a game. The game play can be very challenging, which fits well with its historical theme as many games of the past are notorious for their difficulty. I do feel however, that some will find this difficulty a bit troublesome and it might dishearten them from seeing the story through until the very end, which would be a shame as it is such a wonderful one to experience.

Score: 8/10

What do you think, is the experience of a good narrative rewarding enough to condone such challenging game play? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Author Bio

Wiehahn Diederichs: Columnist
Capetonian freelance writer and photographer. Wiehahn is a lover of stories in all their forms, and has been an avid gamer since he took his first breath. If he is not working or gaming, he either pours his creative energy into his passion for music or plays foosball in some... More