Classic 2D platformers may have first appeared in the early days of gaming but they seem to be making a comeback recently, alongside the blockish pixel look. Rather than a throwback to nostalgia, it’s likely that such games are relatively cheaper and easier to make. Still, we have yet to come across a game that fully dials back to the dual-tone minimalistic basics of the early Game Boys or Nokia phones, that is, until Pixboy came into the picture.
A mischievous pack of dogs may brighten up anyone’s day, but not when you’re a genius scientist who’s specially created formula was stolen from under your nose by said dogs. Like a dog with a bone, you are pushed to set off on a quest through four different terrains, evading enemies and scary bosses as you chase after the thieving hounds.
The plot of Pixboy is easy enough to follow and is shown through a simple yet delightful cutscene at the start of the game. Although, it quickly becomes evident that the quirky plot doesn’t really add much weight to the gameplay aside from explaining why your enemies are a bunch of doggos dressed in beanies and the like, and pooping all over the place.
Starting off your adventure in the Forest, Pixboy launches you right in there, with no tutorials aside from a few floating “?” to deliver hints. Despite that, the game mechanics are easy enough to grasp by yourself as you progress through the levels. The controls are fairly simple, allowing you to move left and right and jump up, and shoot slingshots (though this is only available from level three). You can even press on the jump button twice to pump out a cute parachute, enabling you to soar over short distances.
There’s also a good distinction between what can or cannot be interacted with; even with additional moving background elements such as drifting clouds and swaying flowers which may confuse players in any other format. And speaking of the background, the two colour blocky graphics may seem simplistic at the first glance, but don’t be fooled by it.
It soon becomes apparent how much love went into Pixboy’s creation with the addition of details such as penguins, trees, cacti, pyramids which all correspond to the four worlds in the game, Forest, Desert, Snowland and Cyberspace. Even the mini enemies aside from the dogs will change depending on the environment, allowing you to meet spiders, snails, birds and other unidentified creatures. And of course, the territories are dotted with “dogified” versions of iconic monuments such as a dog-headed sphinx.
You can even use the coins collected during the game to purchase 24 different two-colour graphics such as black-yellow, pink-turquoise or green-black, allowing you to somewhat customise the background. The many icons representing each colour choice are a small nod to early consoles and gaming systems like the Game Boy and floppy discs. To top off the retro experience, the graphics are accompanied by peppy chiptune music, transforming the game into something that feels like a trip back into the time of vintage arcade machines and computers.
Pixboy runs on a categorical scoring system, similar to that of Mario. You can achieve between one and three stars; which are summed up by the number of coins collected, the number of hidden items obtained and the time spent completing a level.
During the game, you will be spending most of your time jumping on mini enemies such as the dogs, avoiding mini but deadly arrow-shaped spikes, cannonballs, swinging spiders and collecting coins and ice lollies. The ice lollies can only be found when you stumble across a secret room, however, beyond tripping a cute thrilling tune when these rooms are discovered, there isn’t much incentive to find these lollies.
As for the mini enemies, they take on various forms and hence provide a good variety of challenges as they dog your steps throughout the levels. The most basic one are the dogs who roam around a fixed area between the platforms. A little opening is provided for you to jump onto them whenever they stop moving to poop. Other enemies include hopping chick-like creatures which are tiny and hard to aim at; spiders which when triggered will jump off their original platform to chase you, and even arrow-shooting creatures which you have to dodge and kill.
However, despite their different movements, the main trick to defeat them is by jumping atop of them. This also allows you to accumulate shots for your slingshot, which you may also use to shoot down the creatures which are harder for you to get atop of. However, be careful not to get too greedy when collecting coins or shots as you may end up losing more precious lives by bumping into the enemies in the midst of attempting to kill them.
Pixboy gets progressively harder as you move up levels. You will meet new obstacles such as doors that can only be unlocked after you have recovered all the keys from the areas. The spikes also start appearing on the ceilings and sides of the platforms instead of simply protruding from the ground, hence challenging you to device different movement routes in order to navigate past them while defeating enemies and dodging flying projectiles.
This is further complicated by the fact that you don’t have much manual control over the height of your jumps, hence for ceiling spikes and swinging spiders, you may have to crack your brains over finding alternatives, such as, taking a detour to a lower platform to launch up from.
To leap onto higher ground at certain points, you will also have to hop onto moving platforms. And even after lots of sighing and teeth gritting from badly timed jumps in attempt to get on, you have to be careful not to be pushed off when the platforms slide under blocks. On a friendlier note, there are easier footholds to leap onto like the friendly snails lined along some walls.
With all these challenges lined up, there are no saving points within each section so once you lose all your hearts, you have to restart the entire level. Collecting hearts along the way may help spare you from swift death, but even those may not be sufficient to save your ass from the trickier points.
Another challenge posed may be the touch screen controls of Pixboy specifically for iOS and Android. Though it doesn’t greatly affect the overall gameplay, the lack of solid buttons under your fingers may make it a little disorienting and thus harder to navigate and estimate the timing needed to push the buttons for jumps over enemies and through narrow gaps.
While you may be uncaring about setting a good speedrunner of each level, being hounded by the final bosses of each terrain will really set a pace that’s enough to get your hackles up. The bosses only come in at every tenth level of the 40 levels of the game and as soon as the giant dog head appears, you are forced into a hair-raising chase. You are made to utilise all the skills you’ve practiced for the past ten levels to evade obstacles as well as zoom to the finishing line as fast as possible without dying.
Coupled with the fact that the challenges stack up and that you’re forced to restart the entire level instead of from a certain save point; even the more patient gamer may find it frustrating to be continuously thrown back to the Game Over screen and rage quit after a while.
On the bright side, you can go back to replay levels to get a better rating for it, challenge yourself to get a better speedrun time or collect more coins if you feel like you’ve underperformed a particular section. You can even choose to avoid all the annoying mini enemies and earn a Pacifist badge at the end of your run.
Platformers making a comeback with new games like Celeste, Gris, along with pixel-style games like SuperEpic: The Entertainment Wars. Pixboy is truly a blast from the past jazzed up with many intricate details and exciting though sometimes frustrating challenges. The cute overarching plot involving doggos is also an attractive point.
The retro-styled game is also made more appealing as developers from Oaky Games chose the 2D platformer style not out of necessity but out of their love for it, thus enabling them to push the envelope of possibilities for the game to greater heights. Pixboy is going for S$4.48 on the iTunes store for iOS and S$5.49 on the Google Play Store for Android. The price is worth it considering the number of challenges and levels available for you to while away at whenever you need a brain break from work.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
By cleverly working around the limitations of 2D platforming, Pixboy is an adorable 1-bit game with a simple yet addictive gameplay style, filled with cute enemies that will dog your steps. It is perfect for those who have some spare time to while away, though it will require more than one sitting and some patience to complete various exciting challenges.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10