Written by Dave Navarro, February 20th, 2017, at 11:55 a.m.
A Pixel Story is a rare treat. While the indiesphere swirls with hundreds of titles, only a handful can rise to the top and become truly memorable. I think A Pixel Story is going to be one of those titles. It’s a puzzle-platformer in the tradition of Limbo and Fez. It’s difficult, it’s beautiful, and it’s fun. Most importantly, it’s good.
Continuing the recent reintroduction of the tradition of giving players a challenge, A Pixel Story will drive you up the wall with its seemingly simple puzzles. The game begins easy enough, as you chase a bird across the first map in search of a hat that it stole. You’re given the basics of how to control your character, and how to navigate the world’s first puzzle mechanics. However, in stark contrast to a game I praised recently, A Pixel Story gets brutal immediately. From teaching you how to jump, to forcing you to solve increasing complex puzzles, A Pixel Story expects a lot from its players.
The learning curve is a steep one. It doesn’t hold your hand through the level, making sure you understand each mechanic and each move before introducing a tough puzzle. Instead it opts to throw you to the wolves. You’ll pick up a new skill, and will immediately have it put to the test. If you can’t beat it, tough luck. You’ll fail, die, and repeat a puzzle so many times, that by the end, you’ll have a mastery of the game that far surpasses what is usually necessary in a puzzle-platformer. It reminds me a lot of Doom (2016) in that way.
It doesn’t need to be as unforgiving as it is. There could be an easy mode, that lets you trek your little pixelated body across its levels so you can pick up the story. It could be a relaxing trip through the quaint world it presents. However, Lamplight Studios decided otherwise. They want you to master their game. So much so, that the ending is reachable in a matter of 8 or so hours, but its 100% completion will take you much longer.
Now don’t get me wrong. There isn’t a ton of content in this game. At a speed runners pace, I’d hazard to guess this title could be beat in less than an hour. And while it may seem easy to blame its length on difficulty alone, and claim that it’s artificially inflated, I would urge you not to.
I played through the whole game in three sittings over a weekend. Not once did I feel like the game was needlessly tough. The story works in such a way, that when I found myself stuck, I was to blame. I never died because I didn’t understand a mechanic, I never died because the game was too tough; I repeated puzzles as many times as I did, because I was not good enough. But, the game made me better. By the start of the last series of puzzles, I was flying through the game. The tasks that had knocked me down hundreds of times before, seemed easy now, and I used my newfound stick skills to cruise to the end.
It isn’t a game I will relish going back to and replaying. At some point I will have to 100% complete it, and get the promised second ending, but A Pixel Story will not get another full play from me. Perhaps that says something about its replay-ability, a buzz word that seems to drive our gaming purchases as of late. But, I’d hazard to guess that it has more to do with my relationship to the game. I can count it among the games that I have bested, at least in one sense, and to that end I am satisfied.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for Lamplight Studios’ next title. I suggest you do the same.
A Pixel Story is available on Steam, and comes out for consoles on February 24th. Go get it.