The Game Boy levels are soaked in muted green, the CPC areas look rightfully squashed, the ZX81 sections are built from inverse video ‘X’s and the ZX Spectrum levels are the result of the same tricks that made the blocky 8×8 squares so colourful with just two shades. There’s no colour clash in the Speccy bits, though – a little bit of a shame.
Life Of Pixel, a tricky platformer that pulls from Super Meat Boy’s devilishly difficult mechanics and blends it with a whimsical trip down memory lane, is an on-target example of everything that PlayStation Mobile can be about: bite-sized chunks of gaming with a cute twist and, despite the simple graphics, actually looks great on the PlayStation Vita.
Of course, if you arrived in the world at the dawn of the PlayStation none of this 2D retro-lovefest will make much sense. The visuals will be all too square (and monochrome, at least at the start) and the platforming will feel basic – all you really end up doing is collecting items, dodging enemies and rather pointy spikes and making your way to the exit.
That’s the trick, though – that’s what a lot of these games were all about in the 80’s – it was all about the simplicity and that’s something that Life Of Pixel nails consistently. Sure, the visuals are interpreted rather than emulated but they’re close enough, and the music (different for each set of levels) is at least an approximation of what you might expect.
Few classic games escape untouched here in Life of Pixel, there’s a huge amount of homage at play (even NES Mario gets a rather distinct nod) and I’m surprised the developers have been so ballsy with certain sections. The controls are simple (just left, right and jump) but it’s all very slick and despite some minor collision detection issues it’s a mostly fair game.
The game is challenging and will take a fair amount of time to get through – each level also has a hard to reach gem that’ll really test your skills. For a couple of quid it’s a bit of a steal (and the Vita’s controls push it well beyond what would be possible with just touchscreen controls) and for retro fans eager to see what the developers have managed to ape it’s a delight.
It’s perhaps worth noting that this review was written after the game was patched, and tested on the PlayStation Vita. Early reviews picked up on slow frame-rates and far too many cheap deaths alongside a sense that the game was rushed. These issues weren’t apparent in the version reviewed.