Pixel Ripped 1989’s opening gambit is to place you within a monochrome Game Boy-styled VR world, complete with the requisite chip tune soundtrack in the background and bleeps and bloops for conversation. For people of an increasingly mature age, it should immediately fire some sweet nostalgia directly into the part of your brain that still yearns for Revenge of the Gator and that Bigtrak you never got.
This opening section introduces you to Dot, the hero of this Game Boy land, and it falls to him to save the kingdom from the villainous Cyblan Lord. He can’t do it alone though, and Pixel Ripped 1989’s next gambit is to cast you as Nicola, a nine year old attempting to play her Gear Kid handheld in class – I defy anyone not to try and swing their legs on their chair like she does. Dot’s quest finds its way to Nicola’s portable, and it becomes her task to guide Dot through some classic platforming, while keeping your teacher preoccupied with the kinds of havoc that only a nine year old can wreak using a spitball and a straw.
It’s a great setup visually, and from the opening salvo of being within the murky green 8-bit world to moving to Nicola’s fully 3D classroom in the real world, there’s a sense of being drawn in while all the game is spilling out. It’s the stuff that all children, or indeed mis-adulting adults, dream of, and for anyone that’s ever felt so utterly engrossed in playing a game that it’s all they can think of, Pixel Ripped might just make that sensation tangible.
With your PSVR headset in place, the Dualshock 4 takes on the role of Nicola’s Gear Kid, and one of the best things about the game is being able to hold it up to your face and play just as you would a real handheld. The platform game you’re playing is gloriously old-school, which thankfully means you won’t be overwhelmed by the minimal controls of jump, shoot and run. That said, you might be overwhelmed by the difficulty, which feels fairly true to the era by being undeniably tough. You have unlimited lives within the game and multiple checkpoints, so progression isn’t too hard going until you hit some excruciating difficulty spikes in the last level and the final boss.
In order to play Dot’s quest in class you have to juggle your handheld gaming with distracting your teacher, and the way in which it forces you to split your attention is a clever use of the dual viewpoint, even if it can feel reminiscent of playing on Nintendo’s underperforming Wii U. It’s here that you have three chances, and if your teacher catches you slacking off too often you’ll soon have to start the section again.
Compared with Dot’s quest it’s pretty easy to keep her off your back, as long as you don’t become too engrossed in platforming, which definitely can happen when you’ve died ten times in a row. There’s definitely some light laughs to be found in firing spitballs at your fellow students or your curmudgeonly tutor.
The classroom isn’t the only location in the real world either, and you’ll experience the game world bleeding into a few other places including the headmasters office and the playground. These sections are probably amongst the most fun, with 16-bit sprites lending some colour to proceedings.
In case the title didn’t give it away, it’s all clearly referential of the 80s, though ultimately I wish they’d gone even further with their fan service. Elements that will raise a smile include Nicola permanently wearing a Power Glove and the array of Game Boy-esque cartridges strewn around, but there’s little in the background to back it up besides a Walkman here or a newspaper with a headline about Home Alone’s Wet Bandits there.
The 8-bit game worlds that the Cyblin Lord starts to affect are fairly generic for the time, and have names like Tombz N Zombies in place of Ghouls N Ghosts, though there are enough little touches like appearance of the potion sprites from Golden Axe or a pastiche of Alex Kidd to keep players entertained throughout its run time. By the time you reach the 16-bit stuff you’ll definitely be ready for it though.
There’s at least a few hours worth of gameplay here, assuming you don’t get stuck, and there are hidden cartridges to find in each level to push you towards at least a couple of playthroughs. Pixel Ripped 1989 will be a fun VR experience for everyone, but for anyone that grew up in the 80s or is a retro gaming aficionado it’ll have a great deal more meaning and tug on those nostalgia strings just a bit harder.
There aren’t many games with such a surety of visual design as Pixel Ripped 1989, but while it’s deeply referential it retains its own unique character and flavour. It’s perhaps aggravatingly tough at times, and fundamentally you’ll be playing a Game Boy game for a good portion of your time here, but it’s undoubtedly a VR experience you won’t have seen before.
Version Tested: PSVR – also available on Oculus Ef