Inside Pulse 12

Review: Pix’N Love Rush (Sony PS3/PSP)

Pix’N Love Rush
Publisher: Sanuk Games
Developer: Bullypix
Genre: 2D Platformer
Release Date: 03/15/2011

While many would claim that the rise of the iPhone has been thorn in the PSP’s side since it came out, the reality is that in some ways it has provided a boon. You see, the PSP Minis section of the PSN store has been lighting up as of late thanks to developers porting over iPhone games. That might not seem like such a boon at first. These games often don’t add anything new and cost more money. The only plus that most could come up with is that people with a PSP and without a iPhone would be able to play some otherwise exclusive games.

However, for every Twin Blades, there is a diamond in the rough like Pix’N Love Rush.

This is the way to do it people. Take a critically acclaimed game, add a new feature or two, and put it up as a Mini. Don’t just do a quick and dirty port. Give us PSN users a reason to care about your game. As you’ll you soon see in this review, Pix’N Love Rush is the definitive version of the game and is easily one of the best Minis I’ve played.

So let’s get to it.

Modes

When the game was first launched on the iPhone, it had one mode with two variants. That mode was Classic Rush. The two variants were one with a five minute time limit, and one with infinite time. In both cases, you’re given a mostly random series of micro levels to complete in which you try to maximize your score by earning combo rewards and avoiding damage. The way these levels come at you is akin to something like Warioware. You never know exactly what you’ll do from one level to the next, but you know it will involve jumping and shooting.

The game was later re-released as a special edition. This edition contained extra skins (more on those in a bit) and also a new mode. That mode was Cursed Rush. Here, you don’t have to worry about collecting points or health bars. Instead, your character automatically moves forward and all you have to do is jump. That may seem easy, but these jumps are treacherous and require timing and reflexes. Miss a jump, and it’s game over. Your score is kept as a percentage meter, with the goal of getting one hundred percent. There are five stages here, aptly titled “hard, harder, hardcore, hardcorer, and hardcorest.”

The PSP version of Pix’N Love Rush contains both of these modes as well as another new mode. This is On-Off Rush. There are two variants to this as well. In this mode, you move from left to right grabbing sun tokens and avoiding moon tokens. When you reach a wall, you’ll turn around and do the opposite. Arcade Mode gives you one pass at this while Puzzle Mode gives you infinite passes, but you can’t move on to the next bit until you’ve gotten all of the tokens. Both of these have time limits.

Beyond that, you have some basic options. You can turn off the music and/or the sound effects, view the credits, look at high scores, and view a quick guide to clue you in on how to handle each mode. Honestly, these modes take full advantage of the game’s play style. For a Mini, having all these different ways to play is pretty rare. Each mode plays different and offers a fun experience. I can’t give this section anything less than high marks. Any port that adds new, quality content deserves to be rewarded.

Graphics

As you can probably surmise from the title, this is a game that love its pixels. Everything is made out of large pixels, including your character, a wonky looking cat with a huge grin. That isn’t to imply that the game looks bad, or even dated. Honestly, this is one of the best looking Minis on the market, and that is because this game has some serious style.

Not content to give you one look and stick with it, the color palette and design of the game changes as you score points. It does this by the way of skins. If you’ve played something like Lumines, it works pretty much the same. You start off with one look, and as you progress from one combo to another, the skin changes, giving you a new background as well as switching the colors up. On top of that, each skin is an homage to a classic gaming system. My favorites include a level that looks like an early Game Boy game (I swore I was looking as Super Mario Land!) and another that looked like a video recording of someone playing an NES game on an old TV, complete with a general fuzziness. There was another that harkened to the Virtual Boy without causing any pain to my eyes!

Another thing the game does well is its use of color. No matter what skin you’re looking at, you’ll be treated to some rich hues that stand out. In particular, I really dug the neon flavored level, as it practically popped from the screen. Given that this is a game that has very few things going on in terms of variety in obstacles and enemies, the color and constant skin changing keeps the game fresh and interesting to look at.

The last thing to talk about here are the animations. In truth, there aren’t that many. Only a few things ever move, and even fewer have more than one animation. The feline that you control gets most of the attention, and rightfully so. Created solely out of large pixels, the cat somehow finds a way to be extremely expressive and fluid. No matter what skin you’re using, he’s fun to look at.

This is one case where a team managed to take a simplistic look and turn it into something great thanks to creativity and color. As such, despite a less than state of the art look, this is another part of the game deserving some high praise.

Audio

The very first thing I noticed about this game was the music. It follows the same old school theme as the graphics, presenting its tracks in an 8-bit style. There aren’t too many tracks, but they’re all rock solid. The main theme is light and catchy as hell. The music that accompanies the gameplay is upbeat and fitting, culminating in an awesome quickening of pace when you’ve reached the highest combo multiplier. You get a bit nervous when the music changes, because you realize that one mistake will set you back greatly. The tunes aren’t the best example of this type of music, but they’re above average and are fun to listen to. At one point I was playing the game whilst listening to a podcast. About half a minute in, I gave turned the volume up on the game regardless. It just didn’t feel right without it.

The other side of the coin is the audio effects. These too stick with the old school aesthetic. Whenever you jump, you get a springy sound. When you shoot, you get a little thwacking sound. Collecting plus coins gives you an almost too familiar chirp. Basically, if you’ve played a platformer from the NES or SNES days, you’ll feel right at home. These are classic sounds that fit the game to a tee.

Overall, the audio package is very solid, if not great. This is in no small part due to the old school nature of the game. Where the sounds in this game associated with a more modern genre, they’d be horribly out of place. Here, it works and it works well.

Gameplay

The controls for this game are pretty simple. You move your character with the d-pad or the analog nub. After that, the only buttons you’ve got to worry about are X and square. These control running and jumping respectively. The controls are very responsive and smooth. This isn’t the cream of the crop up there with Mario or anything, but it is very close. You can change directions while jumping, shoot while jumping, and overall the game has a great feel to it. After the ten seconds it takes to get used to it, you won’t be able to blame any deaths or mishaps on the controls. For a platformer, that is paramount.

The On-Off and Cursed modes take away your ability to move and shoot, leaving you only with the task of timing your jumps. I gave an overview of what you’re required to do in these modes in the top section. As such, I’ll be talking about the Classic mode from here on out. After all, it is the feature attraction, and the one you’ll come back to the most.

You’ll be bombarded with a series of micro levels with various challenges, but only one goal. That goal is to collect plus coins and shoot bats while avoiding negative blocks and/or taking damage. You take damage either by running into bats, falling into a pit, shooting an angel, or getting caught behind a wall during auto-scroll sequences.

As you collect coins and shoot bats, you’ll build up your combo meter. There are three combo stages: 2X, 5X, and 10X. Hitting a negative block will set you back one step. If you have no combo multiplier, you’ll merely lose all progress towards 2X. Taking damage also sets you back a combo level in addition to taking away one of your hearts. Running out of hearts results in a game over. If you can make it through a level without taking damage, as well as getting all of the coins and bats, you’ll get a huge cache of bonus points. You want these points, as they’ll quickly become the bulk of your total score.

The micro-levels I’ve been talking about come in two varieties. There are stationary levels and auto-scrolling levels. Stationary levels have the coins and bats coming at you. You need to grab/shoot them before they fly off the screen. You can move your character freely, so these sections are about prioritizing actions and avoiding mistakes. The auto-scroll levels are as they sound. You’ll be pushed either up, down, or to the right. If you get caught behind an obstacle, you’ll take damage. You’ve also got to keep moving, lest the platform you’re on disappear from under your feet. These make up the bulk of the levels you’ll come across.

The shooting mechanic is pretty interesting. The cat will spit a block from its mouth straight up. However, the block is on a trajectory. It will eventually fall back to the ground, always on a curve from whence it came. This means a couple of things. Firstly, if a bat is particularly high, you’ll likely miss unless you shoot while jumping, which takes timing. If you miss, you can be harmed by the block. You can also accidentally hit an angel, which also causes damage. This prevents you from firing like crazy. You need to fire your shots with skill in order to hit your targets while not hitting yourself.

I like pretty much everything the game does. The controls are simple and well executed. The gameplay is timeless fun with a frantic pace. There are a couple of issues. If two platforms are close together, you can fun from one to another without falling. The problem comes from those instances where you want to fall. It becomes far too easy to get stuck on a pixel and get stuck. This usually causes you to take damage during levels where the screen is scrolling down. It comes up practically every time, so it is worth mentioning. Also, there are cases during these same levels where you’ll take falling damage because a platform hasn’t appeared on screen quite yet. It is an old school problem that a lot of platformers have. It gets annoying when the combo you’ve worked hard to build up is killed because of something like this.

Those quarrels aside, this is a pretty fun game. I absolutely love the infusion of the Warioware style with an old school platformer. It keeps you on your toes and dares you to get better so you can watch your score skyrocket. I’m one of those people who doesn’t get into games where the only goal is to get the high score. This game is an exception because the gameplay is that good.

Replayability

This is a hard one to gauge in terms of replay value.

For starters, this game has no traditional beginning or ending. There’s no story mode or season mode that gives you a clear cut stopping point. You’ll get as much out of it as you want. If your goal is simply to get the top score for everything, this game won’t last you more than a couple of hours at the max. If you’re the kind of person who wants to push that score to the stratosphere, then expect to put some serious time into it.

Look at something like Space Invaders. How do you judge the replay value on that? The game is made solely for the sake of getting the high score. In an arcade setting, you at least had other people who played as well, leaving top scores in the form of their initials. In a game like this, the leaderboards are strictly offline. You do have the option to change the profile name, meaning multiple people can play on the same file and leave their own scores. Is that the same? I’m not sure.

One thing going for the game is that the level selection for Classic Mode is random. This means that no two play experiences will be the same. This does give the game legs. It becomes a lot easier to have marathon sessions of an arcade game if you’re not playing the same opening levels over and over again. I know that it became hard for me to play Pac-Man after a while because I became sick of the first screen. So, in that regard, Pix’N Rush Love has something going for it.

Like I said, you get what you put into it. This game can last you dozens of hours, or a couple. It all depends on your mindset.

Balance

If the goal were merely to survive, the game wouldn’t be too difficult. All you’d have to do is make sure you make a few jumps and protect an angel or too. There would be a few challenging moments, but your hearts are numerous and the levels are short. It would be doable.

However, the purpose of this game is to score points and go for a perfect on each level. That requires you to collect all the coins, kill all of the bats, all whilst doing the things mentioned in the above paragraph. That requires a certain amount of risk that is going to make the game much more challenging. Coins are often placed in places of great peril, such as next to a negative block or a over in a hard to reach corner. If you don’t want the points, you don’t have to go for them, but why play an arcade game if you’re not going to go for the high score.

The game has a pretty nice curve to it as well. The further along the path you go, the tougher each level becomes. Enemies become more numerous, the jumps become more treacherous, and there are less coins to build up your combo. Heck, at one point Endless Rush turns into a free fall where you avoid bats that are coming at you at a rapid pace. There are no breaks and you won’t last too long. There’s a reason this particular level spells the word “DIE” in big letters at the top.

Overall, the game is challenging but not brutal. You’re going to have to work for your score.

Originality

If you’ve noticed, I’ve been comparing this game to a lot of things in this review. It clearly borrows some ideas from Warioware, Lumines, and every platformer in the past thirty years. However, it blends these elements to create an experience unlike any other I’ve ever come across. I could be mistaken, but this seems like something wholly new.

Bearing that in mind, this is a port, and that is going to hurt the score here. I’ve said time and again that I don’t award ports too many points for originality unless they bring something new to the table. For something like Twin Blades, I couldn’t award a thing. For this game, I can make an exception. As I mentioned before, this port added a whole new mode. That deserves some praise. The score will reflect that.

Addictiveness

I’ve got to say, I’ve had some hard times putting this game down. Heck, I’ve been writing this review in bursts because I feel like playing a quick game or two (or three). Part of me is trying to rationalize this by calling it a refresher course as I turn a critical eye on the game, but that part of me is clearly full of crap. The game, like some of the best old school arcade games, is addicting. If this were an arcade machine, I could see myself pumping quarters into it on a regular basis. Screw Galaga. I want to shoot some bats and get some coinage.

This is the kind of game that you can play for short bursts or long sessions. Got only a few minutes during a work break? Try the five minute mode or cursed rush. Got even longer? Play some endless and go nuts. Dare yourself to become perfect and top your score. The game even has some decently high default high scores to taunt you. It took me a few tries before I could topple them. On a few modes, I’m still trailing.

Appeal Factor

The big thing hurting this game’s appeal is the fact that it costs about three bucks. That may not seem like much, but the iPhone version was a mere ninety-nine cents. This problem is indicative of what companies have been doing straight along. When things get ported, the price gets inflated. This is mostly due to fees put into place by Sony, but it still affects the game.

However, for those willing to spend a couple of extra bucks, this game is most certainly the current definitive version of Pix’N Love Rush. For starters, it has the new On-Off Mode. Also, this game uses buttons rather than a touch screen. For a platformer that requires plenty of speed, timing, and reflexes, buttons are much more ideal than the touch screen inputs of an iPhone. I’ve heard that there were occasional controls issues with the previous version. The Mini version has none. That alone should help would be buyers chose this regardless of the inflated price.

As far as the game’s overall appeal, I’d say it has a strong base, but isn’t for everyone. You need to have an old school mentality to get the most out of this game. Getting high scores has to mean more to you than “beating” something or unlocking trophies. You’ll also need to love platforming, as that is the bulk of the gameplay. If either of those things aren’t your bag, stay away. Otherwise, this game is most assuredly worth a good look.

Miscellaneous

There were plenty of things I was going to mention in this section, but I ended up covering them in others, which kind of puts a damper on anything new going here.

What interests me the most is that the Mini version is the definitive experience you can buy. This is not the case for just about every ported Mini I’ve played. As such Pix’N Love Rush is the rare beast that takes full advantage of its new audience.

Overall, I think this game is right up there with The Flying Hamster as one of the best Minis on the market. For only a couple of bucks, you’re getting a game with tight controls, fast arcade platforming action, and an addictive nature. I can see this game staying on PSP for some time, and also myself playing it anytime I get bored.

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Good
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

I was pleasantly surprised by Pix’N Love Rush. At first glanced, it looked like it might be kind of boring. Little did I know, this game had style and substance. It successfully marries concepts from the Warioware series with classic platforming to create an experience truly unique and entertaining. It also features some pretty gnarly graphics and a solid soundtrack. I couldn’t find a weak chain in this game’s armor, which is a rarity. Between this and The Flying Hamster, I have two pretty great games for all Minis to try and measure up to. If you’ve got a couple of bucks to spend on your PSN account, look this game up.

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