I can tell you exactly when I got frustrated with A Pixel Story. It was only a few minutes into the introductory stage, and I had been hounded by the tutorial companion robot with silly quips every 20 feet. I was in the middle of jumping on three platforms, and I died over and over. Not because I couldn’t make the jump, but because the game simply wouldn’t LET me jump off the middle platform.
The game holds itself back from soaring to great heights in a very similar manner. A lot of great elements are in place for what should be a tremendous game. Although I was able to get past that infuriating area by restarting the game, I was never able to shake my frustration with the unrealized potential of this game.
Despite its name, A Pixel Story doesn’t have much of an actual story. Born out of a few pixels in a Pong game, the game’s hero earns a magic teleporting hat and sets out to free the System from a corrupt OS. Along the way, he will cross gates into different zones, allowing the player to see video game worlds ranging from 8-bit, to 16-bit, to modern era. He briefly interacts with various characters in fetch quests to proceed to the next area, but that’s it as far as story elements. The only real story here is the evolving landscape through video game eras, and to be fair, this non-verbal narrative is done well.
The art design is the strongest feature of A Pixel Story. I have a minor quibble with the first area, which seemed to show large flat polygons with pixelated edges rather than true 8-bit sprites. Quibbles aside, the art is gorgeous in A Pixel Story. I would often stop and admire the scenery. A lot of creativity and love is evident in the art design, and the game shines in this regard as an interactive museum piece of the history of platform gaming over the last 30 years.
The physics in the game are very precise. Maybe too precise. Because you can control your movement mid air and the game allows for some Portal-style momentum boosting, the player will often find themselves plunging to their deaths trying to land on a razor thin edge of a platform between spikes and fireballs. This game is not for the casual player. True to older platformers, this game demands patience, pattern recognition, and precision. The optional challenge rooms are on an even more insane scale of difficulty, reserved for the most seasoned gamers.
A Pixel Story deserves praise for its checkpoint system. Since death is inevitable and frequent, respawning quickly near the beginning of a challenging puzzle is a welcome feature. The stages are open world on a 2D plane, and as there is constant backtracking to retrieve items to move forward, it is also great that you can teleport between checkpoints. Honestly if you had to go through each puzzle room again when you backtracked, this game would be intensely frustrating. As it stands, the levels feel a bit too long, and since there were some puzzles where the major elements were repeated, I believe this game would have been improved by some editing and shortening.
- Great art showcasing the evolution of games
- Neat teleporting hat
- Smart checkpoint system
- Challenging puzzles
- CHALLENGING puzzles (not for the casual)
- tricky physics
- levels too long
- fetch quests instead of story
A Pixel Story leaps high, but ultimately falls short of becoming a masterpiece showcase of videogame evolution. An opportunity is missed here to show casual gamers the rich visual history of the last 30 years. Fortunately experienced gamers will find a worthy challenge here, although the game shares the rough edges of the games it honors from the past.