Review: Arkedo Series – 03 Pixel! (Sony PS3)

Arkedo Series – 03 Pixel!
Publisher: Sanuk Games
Developer: Arkedo Studios
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: TBA (released 09/28/2011 in Europe)

Wow. I guess I got to part three a lot sooner than I thought. I’ve given positive reviews to both Jump and Swap. Now, Pixel has some serious predecessors to live up to. This was the last game before Arkedo gave up on putting out a game a month. One has to wonder if this game was a reason for that.

Also, Sanuk games took the main character from this game and eventually put him into a new style of game. That game, Pix’N Love Rush, is one of my favorites this year and a heck of a platformer. Anyone I know who’s played it has enjoyed it. As you can imagine, I was very much looking forward to this game.

Can it possibly live up to my expectations?

Modes

The “story” of this game is remarkably thin. At night, when everyone goes to sleep, Pixel the cat starts on his adventure. That’s it. The whole story is simply a cat goofing around. While I’m all for cute cat videos and inspirational posters, they could have come up with at least a little bit more than that. Even Mario had a princess to save.

The only mode in the game is the story mode itself. During your first time through, you make your way through the six different stages one by one. After you’ve completed a stage, you can chose to replay it at your leisure in order to collect hidden goodies.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is that the game offers nothing else. Every other Arkedo Studios game I’ve played has offered a challenge mode to keep players coming back for more. I wonder if this game was properly finished, because it really is an oddity for the the developer.

Graphics

I loved the graphics in Pix’N Love Rush. I gave them a score of “very good”. That’s pretty darn good, especially for a Mini. I was hoping that the game it was based on would feature some similar style. Alas, it does not.

This game is all about the colors blue, white, and black. Seriously. I now see why Pix’N Love Rush needed to constantly switch things up with different themes. The pixelated look can get old if you’re staring at the same three colors for an hour. The only thing to differentiate between levels are different objects in the background. The city has buildings, whereas Pixel’s house is properly furnished.

The animations are still pretty cute. Pixel is just adorable as he runs around, and even when he’s stomping in the heads of enemies. Enemies simply shamble back and forth, but if you had to have it that way, this game is the way to go.

There is still plenty of charm in all of the pixels. It looks cool. If only the color palette wasn’t so limited. Color is important, people. It’s the thing that makes the sense of sight so freaking awesome.

Audio

The music in this game is nothing short of lackadaisical. Heck, it even features a chorus whimsically singing “la la la” at parts. It’s extremely light hearted and fits with the game’s inherent cuteness. That being said, the tunes themselves aren’t that great. I would place them above the songs in Swap, but definitely below those of Jump. I certainly don’t have any of them stuck in my head.

The sound effects were pretty much the same as the sequel. You have a little pop for jumping sounds, the sound of an opening pokeball when you stomp an enemy, etc. The sounds are a little muffled for my tastes, but fit rather nice. They definitely keep the retro style going strong.

Again I find myself not writing very much for a section. The audio for this game is pretty much par for the course for this type of game. You can keep it on or turn it off. It doesn’t really affect your enjoyment. At the very least, it isn’t something that will actively have you switching the sound off.

Gameplay

The gameplay is pretty much a straight up platformer. As such, Pixel only has three basic actions at his disposal. You can move with the d-pad, jump, and run. Running boosts your jumping ability considerably, and I’d kind of wish it were the default speed if not for a couple of tricky jumps. Another function is Pixel’s roar ability. If you smash enemies, you build up a meter. Get five in a row without getting hit, and you can unleash a mighty roar that toasts any enemy in your way.

The other gameplay mechanic is a rather unique one. At any point, you can hold a shoulder button to freeze the screen as you move a cursor about. There are several objects and enemies that you can interact with this way. Clicking on them will bring you to a screen where you make your way through a maze to find a goal. Getting to that goal will offer you a collectable, a health boost, or simply open up a path. Some of these are timed, and failure causes you some damage. This mechanic is rather nifty and offers a bit of variety from all of the jumping. You’re also rarely forced to do it, so it doesn’t become annoying.

Enemy types don’t tend to change much. While there are several different looking ones, they really only come in few varieties. Firstly, you have the ambler. These work pretty much like goombas. They shuffle back and forth and offer no resistance. A quick jump on the head clears them out. You also have flying enemies that swoop down, but they too can meet a quick death with some well timed leaps. The final enemy type are the armored variety. Jumping on them hurts, so only the mighty roar can take them down. Enemies aren’t really active in trying to take you out. They mostly serve as obstacles that keep your from simply running to the goal.

There are several gimmicks at work throughout the game. One section has you trapped in darkness until you activate a light switch, another has you hopping from ladder to ladder without a safety net, and there are plenty of spring jumps, floating platforms, and other staples of the genre. I will say the level design is pretty slick. It gets tougher as you go and checkpoints are frequent enough that dying isn’t too much of a hassle.

The only things that this game lacks is boss fights. That’s no big loss in my eyes. Overall, it’s a solid platformer with tight controls and enough variety to keep things from getting stagnant. It also has a brilliant sense of speed that makes it downright fun to play. This was a fresh breath of air after that Pucca game I reviewed last week.

Replayability

Playing through the story mode will take less than an hour to anyone who’s used to platformers. A couple sections will be tricky to get through, but there are only six stages. They’re only going to take so long to get through. With the game’s sense of speed, things can go by all too quickly.

With no other modes to speak of, the game’s only option for replay is for you to go back and find all of the useless relics. Even the game admits this is a cheap replay tactic. What’s really disappointing about this is that the developer is known for adding challenge modes to their games. Heck, even a leaderboard would have helped.

Unless you’re going for trophies, this is pretty much a one and done game.

Balance

Things start off pretty easy, but progressively get tougher as you go. The game introduces new obstacles and items at a rapid pace, but gives you just enough time to get used to them before throwing you a tricky section. By the time you get to the ladder maze of doom, you’re pretty much prepared for it. Though it will still be tricky.

The nice thing is that there are no lives in this game. Instead, you can retry as much as you want. The only downside to death is that you start back at a checkpoint. There are no game overs to be found, but the challenge isn’t killed. That’s always a good thing.

Finding all of those relics boosts the challenge. They’re often hidden in hard to reach areas or in plain sight among the spikes and walking apples of doom. So if you’re looking for an additional bit of challenge, that would be the way to go. You’re bound to miss some though, meaning multiple playthroughs are required.

Originality

This game pretty much uses every platforming staple in the book. In terms of the basic level design, all of this has been seen before. How many times have we jumped on enemies, navigated tricky jumps over spikes, and hurried to get off of a crumbling walkway? Too many to count.

The random maze minigame is a bit of an anomaly though. You definitely don’t see its ilk too often in games, let alone the jumpy variety. I wish they had done a tad bit more with it, but it is still a nifty mechanic.

The last thing to talk about here is the art style. I can’t offer it any real points here. I know I gave the sequel points for its style, but that was because it mixed things up with a unique system with dynamic backgrounds and music. This game doesn’t offer anything like that.

Addictiveness

I played through the first five stages all in one go. The controls are pretty darn tight, and thus I had a blast playing through the game. I also found the relative challenge exciting, and it pushed me to go on even when I struggled. It was shortly afterwards that I pushed on to the final stage and beat the game.

If you like platformers, you’ll find a lot to love here. The sense of speed, the level design is solid throughout, and there are plenty of tense moments to get the heart racing. Non-fans probably won’t get the same feeling.

The big downer here is that the game is really short. Like I said, you can beat it in an hour. That severely limits how long you can play it in one sitting before you’re repeating yourself. That’s going to hurt the score, inevitably.

Appeal Factor

Once again, this is a game that will mostly likely only appeal to fans of the genre. Since it sticks to conventions and doesn’t offer anything special apart from the visual style, it isn’t likely to score much crossover. However, interest from platformer fans should be solid, as this is a well polished 2D game. We just don’t get enough of those anymore.

The best thing going for the game is its price. At just a couple of bucks, it’s cheaper than a lot of Minis, and plays significantly better. If the game is to cross over at all, it will be for that reason. I know a lot of people who will buy anything if it’s cheap enough.

Miscellaneous

This is the weakest of the Arkedo Series. Even still, it’s a solid game thanks to great gameplay. So, if this is the weakest title, I’d call the series a smashing success. I can’t help but be a bit disappointed, but I got three solid games out of this deal. It vastly increased the quality ration of my PSN titles.

I’ll also reiterate how this is the only Arkedo game that doesn’t offer bonus modes. I find that odd, and really hard to get over. I wonder what happened there. It makes Pixel stick out in a bad way, which is never good.

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

Short Attention Span Summary

Great gameplay can go a long way. Were all of the jumping not so solid, this game could have easily ended up on the low side of the score. Instead, the gameplay makes up a lot for the lack of additional modes and bland presentation. Like I said, Pixel is the weakest of the Arkedo Series, but it is till a solid game that will put a smile on the face of anyone who plays it. The whole series get a nice thumbs up from me.

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