Life of Pixel Review—Platforming from the Past
The early days of computing and consoles were home to some of the greatest platforming games made. Lode Runner, Jumpman, Pitfall!, Montezuma’s Revenge, and lesser known classics like Conan, Hard Hat Mack, Miner 2049er, and Trolls and Tribulations to name but a few. Well, half a dozen, but there really were just so many platforming games, especially on early computers.
Life of Pixel from Super Icon is an attempt to revisit those platforming eras. In some ways, it succeeds, primarily visually, but the experience is somewhat different from what I remember, though not too far from it.
The basics of Life of Pixel are simple enough—you control a little square character named “Pixel” who must navigate each level by first finding all the stars in it, which opens up the exit. There are all sorts of obstacles: spikes, enemies, water, etc. Your main way of getting around obstacles is Pixel’s ability to double jump, that is, jump once in the air, then jump again while still in the air, though it gets a little complicated later.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the game, though, is the unknown. Many of the levels are multi-screen (that is, rather than scrolling as you move right, left, up or down, the screen is fixed, and when you move to the edge of the screen, you appear on the opposite end of a new screen) and you don’t know what’s on them until you actually move there. Which is fine, but it’s very easy to die doing so. In fact, you probably will die the first time you change screens on a level.
I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, it can feel a bit cheap, but on the other hand, part of games like this is learning the layout of a level, and you can’t expect to beat something the first time through. I am reminded of my favorite old game in this genre, Jumpman, where the level would change when you grabbed a bomb. Usually, part of the level would be removed, so you’d have to figure out and remember which bomb removed what in order to finish a level. That’s almost the case here with the blind leaps, except sometimes you can run into enemies rather than obstacles, which you can’t always predict.
In any case, dying isn’t that frustrating in Life of Pixel; you just click a couple of times and start the level over. Still, on the multi-screen levels, it can be irksome when you die right on the last screen, so you have to be very slow and patient. I think Life of Pixel would have been much better served had it focused on more shorter levels than the longer ones. The vast majority of old school platformer games were either scrolling or just a bunch of one screen levels. There were a few games that moved from screen to screen like this (Pitfall! comes to mind), but they didn’t have such hazardous transitions.
Progression through the levels works pretty well, as it’s mostly up to the player. There are 8 machines with 8 levels each. You start off with only a couple of the machines unlocked, but beating a couple of levels unlocks another machine. With that said, I would have preferred a couple more levels per machine unlocked, because as it is, when you unlock a machine, only one level is playable. I would have liked a choice of 2 levels always being ready to play, because it’s very easy to get stuck if there is just one.
And although it’s hardly common in PlayStation Mobile games so far, online leaderboards and such probably would have helped the longevity of the game. There is a special jewel to get on every level, which can provide some replay, but competition is often the best way to promote long term play of a title (sadly, even more so than fun).
The best part of Life of Pixel is the graphics. Since the system list is somewhat European-orientated, given that’s where Super Icon is located, I can’t vouch for all the machines, but they look close to the originals, if somewhat higher in resolution. The music, though, doesn’t match the levels.
Life of Pixel isn’t a perfect game by any means, but it’s a solid attempt at a very clever idea. Some of the problems, like the poor performance at times, seem to be a problem of PlayStation Mobile. The virtual machine it runs on doesn’t get very good performance on the Vita for some reason and will presumably eventually be improved by Sony. Some of the other things are being addressed by Super Icon in a forthcoming patch that will add more levels and music more appropriate to the relevant machine, and they also released pictures containing the maps of levels for those that don’t want to be surprised.
If you are a hard core platformer fan that loves modern games like Super Meat Boy and The Impossible Game, then you might not like Life of Pixel, but as someone who is more of a casual platform player and who grew up with many of the machines depicted in this game, I liked it a lot.
Update: 1.1 Patch is live, and after trying the new Pixel, I’m raising the score to 9/10