Arkedo first got on the map when they developed two games for the Nintendo DS: Big Bang Mini and Nervous Brickdown. Reviews were somewhat favourable on these inventive puzzle games, but sales said otherwise. Seemingly frustrated with the publishing world, Arkedo has decided to make short, inexpensive games for Xbox Live Indie Games, with considerable success. The first two games in the Arkedo series (JUMP! and SWAP!) were both relatively successful and with this newfound confidence, Arkedo has managed to make their best game yet with PIXEL!
The simple dot matrix graphics within PIXEL! are a big part of the charm this game holds. Very few colours, mostly shades of blue, keep a calming atmosphere throughout. Backgrounds are detailed and adorable, with objects such as crying moons and large furniture populating them. The music is a small soundtrack of mellow chiptunes that help ease the player through harder parts of the game.
As for the gameplay itself, PIXEL! seems to contain two gameplay styles at once. You jump from place to place, jumping on the heads of enemies that populate both the ground and air in an attempt to find the level exit. Obstacles such as breakable blocks, ice blocks, water and ladders both serve to help and hinder the player. The player receives three hearts as a health gauge, with every hit taking off one half of one heart. Sign posts litter the seven levels, either providing hints or adding humour, sometimes both. Destroying five enemies in a row without being hit fills up the character’s “Roar-o-meter,” a large attack that is useful for clearing out long lines of enemies. In this way, PIXEL! is rather simple.
However, the game adds another layer to the gameplay through “investigation” segments. At any time, the player can hold the left trigger in order to bring out a magnifying glass, which when highlighted over unusual blocks or obstacles, opens up a maze minigame. In this maze, you can move one space vertically or horizontally at a time on a large grid, trying to find the orange block that serves as the exit. When in a maze that is essential to the story, you have unlimited time to finish the maze, but optional mazes have a time limit. Not finding the exit in time results in damage taken.
The best part about the investigation segments of the gameplay is how it interacts with the game itself. For the optional blocks that reward you with health, winning the maze has little effect on the environment. However, when investigating a large tree blocking your path in the second level, completing the maze allows you to cut the tree down so you may pass. It would have been easy to artificially lengthen the game with these segments by making them stand on their own, but by having this minigame interact with the levels, it adds authenticity. On the optional side of things, the game has three funny looking blocks in each level among the hundreds of blocks which contain “Useless Relics,” which the game describes as a way to garner “cheap replay value”. Cheap or not, it is a fun way to explore the levels in depth.
All in all, the game should take about an hour and a half to two hours to complete. At the budget price of 240 Microsoft points, that length sounds about right. Arkedo has really hit their stride with their Indie Games offerings, leaving us excited about the future games they will release.
Game score 8/10
Download a free trial of the game here.