Embracing the immersive nature of VR, Pixel Ripped 1989 was a innovative attempt to tell a different kind of story. Playing as a young girl with a handheld console, you had to try and sneak in some retro gaming whilst avoiding the gaze of her teacher. It was fun, but an experience that was occasionally frustrating.
Developers Arvore have taken what they learned from 1989 and are back with a real bang, jumping forward to the heady days of 1995. Rather than alcopops and Britpop, the Brazilian collective are taking us back to nostalgic times of Christmas consoles, arcades, and even a video rental store. All this nostalgia is wrapped up in a fantastic narrative that feels like a 90s gamer take on The Last Starfighter.
Following on from Dot’s 8-bit triumph, Pixel Ripped 1995 harks back the 16-bit gaming’s heyday. The jump up in graphics and colour works perfectly in VR, with the vivid aesthetic making a great change from the drab greys and browns of so many games. It really feels like being inside one of the bright SNES or Mega Drive platformers at times. These bleed into the VR world, so we also see the day to day life of Dot as she sits in her house eating ice cream or receiving a neck massage from a Belmont-esque vampire hunter.
Dot’s perspective isn’t the only one you get to see, with the main part of the game being experienced through the eyes of 9-year-old David, the “best gamer on Earth”. Seemingly far more unassuming than that title suggests, David is a typical nerdy kid who just wants to be left alone to play his video games. His main nemesis in this endeavour is his mother, unfortunately, who parrots a series of hilarious (at least the first time you hear them) ‘facts’ about the dangerous effects of playing games.
I’ll admit to a serious sense of disorientation when I first looked down to see a 9 year old’s pajama-clad legs. The memory of sitting cross-legged in front of a TV screen quickly came back to me and the immersive nature of grabbing the cartridge in-game and plugging it in was a nice nod to days of gaming past.
Your first session of gaming sees you trying to distract your mother from turning off the console by shooting objects in the ‘real world’ with a Nerf gun. This is a nice evolution of the mechanics from the first Pixel Ripped, as picking the gun up feels more natural than the strange method of holding your helmeted gaze in the original. Later levels take this aspect further, as you must use the gun to fight off possessed arcade-goers or topple obstacles for the in-game character to progress.
Whilst the popgun returns a few times, the most notable aspect here is how different each level feels. Almost right off the bat, the second level sees you moving between two different demo console pods to transfer the power-ups from one game to the next. This is a great idea that becomes really fun to pull off. Quickly switching between the in-game pads is a perfect use of the immersive capabilities of VR.
The most impressive moments occur during the boss fight set-pieces, in which the real and gaming worlds become merged and confused. These are hugely enjoyable and have enough puzzling involved to keep your brain thinking whilst you try to juggle David and Dot on different gaming levels.
The supporting cast in Pixel Ripped 1995 are all well-judged, although some of the voice acting gets a little repetitive. The enigmatic Master, the boastful and annoying neighbour whose uncle supposedly works at the video game factory, even the insecure and fourth wall breaking big bad, The Cyblin Lord, all bring a welcome blend of nostalgia and knowing humour to the table. Working through the achievements shows how the designers are very aware of the games they are riffing off with some brilliant nods to conventions.
As the game progresses, you’ll go from the 16-bit home console to the arcades, and finally through to the 32-bit 3D consoles. Taken as a sequel to 1989, there is a real pleasure to be had from tracking Dot’s progress from a simple GameBoy style character to a 3D avatar. The ways in which these upgrades are conveyed through the narrative only add to the sense of awe that us gamers had back in the day.