Developer: ARVORE Immersive Games Inc. Publisher: ARVORE Immersive Experiences Platform: PS4, PC (VR only) Review code provided
We’re all obsessed with the past. Whether that’s on a personal level or refusing to admit that Fury Road is the best Mad Max movie, we often look back on recent history with some rose-tinted spectacles firmly in place. That’s the whole appeal of Pixel Ripped 1989: a VR game that is finally hitting European storefronts for PSVR.
Pixel Ripped, as you might have guessed, romanticises a very particular time in gaming history, though never to the point of being sickly. It mixes old conventions with the new in the form of some of the most inventive uses of virtual reality I’ve seen to date, but it isn’t without issues that hold it back.
You play as Dot, a pixel character in a early gaming era world. After a villain steals a special cube, you must traipse into the real world and inhabit the body of a young girl called Nicola who’s the best gamer in the land. The story is ultimately used as an excuse to deliver some wonderful virtual reality more than anything meaningful or something you can really latch on to, however. It never takes itself too seriously, evidenced by a supporting character saying “blah blah blah” and the game fast forwarding during a big exposition dump.
The gameplay itself is what you’re here for, and it’s a lot of innovative and well-tuned fun. You primarily play as the young girl, who’s playing a game in class on her Mega Drive with Game Boy visuals homage. Controlling the 2D side-scrolling action is going to be a nice throwback for anyone born before 1995, it successfully replicating the look and feel of games just before and during the early nineties. It’s tough, asking you to be precise and fast with your movements and attacks, but also a middle ground in terms of difficulty so that it’s more of a welcoming time than its inspirations.
Playing as Dot while also playing as the girl (it kind of makes sense in its own way), you are able to collect pixels to make Dot quicker and more powerful, though getting hit will scatter them everywhere. They work much in the same way as Sonic: as long as you have at least one pixel, enemies can’t kill you. The platforming, sadly, is another question.
Dot is able to jump a fair distance when he runs, but the actual implementation of this feels imprecise at times. Holding square slightly too early will just cause him to fall to his death and even when you think you have it nailed, you will be welcoming death and back to the (thankfully generously spaced out) checkpoint. It’s a killer with the game’s latter stages featuring disappearing platforms, but never enough to ruin your time completely. Really, it could be argued that it’s representative of the difficulty of early side-scrolling games so perhaps my complaints will not apply to you in that regard.
While all of this is going on, the young girl is also in class at school. Her cantankerous teacher will cause a game over if she is caught playing the game three times, so distractions are required. Whether that’s setting off music, suddenly making old-school football players appear, or somehow transporting everyone to an arcade, the balancing act is always one that keeps the loop feeling involving.
It helps that the British classroom itself feels alive. Your fellow students will often offer quips or comments and even start dancing on their desks when your teacher falls asleep. A later point sees you throwing a paper aeroplane around the class and swapping notes. It’s a small thing, but one that’s bound to make anyone wish for a time when death and taxes weren’t your most persistent of thoughts.
Pixel Ripped 1989 actually does well as a whole to never dwell on one of its facets for too long, always changing things up when it thinks the player may start to figure it out. Memorable sequences include using your Not A Mega Drive to shoot down dragons that are trying to capture your classmates and another in which you have to play as Dot in the background to detonate some walls to hurt your headmaster with. It’s truly ingenious, so it’s just such a shame that it’s all over so soon.
If you don’t encounter any difficulty issues with Pixel Ripped, you can blow through it in about an hour and a half — I managed it in two with a couple of quick breaks to handle other things. It’s short but sweet, though its symptomatic of the problem with too many VR games that don’t allow you to get lost for hours upon hours. There are collectibles and secrets to find, though the lack of a Platinum may hurt its longevity in your eyes.
Pixel Ripped 1989 is also guilty of having one of the most stressful final boss fights in recent memory. Everything else in the game offers a quick but immediately beatable challenge, but the final stretch of Pixel Ripped offers a fight that feels naively developed in that it needs you to have about ten pairs of eyes to keep on top of it all. It’s a cocktail of all the game’s worst habits, which include you more or less needing to take damage to have a chance at hitting your enemies and some imprecise platforming. Again, those who grew up in a less forgiving era of gaming might not find that much to grumble about, but the difficulty spike feels hard to ignore.
Even if its length may be lacking and the challenge imbalanced in its latter stages, Pixel Ripped 1989 is still a joyful time for the most part. Virtual reality really enhances the experience with its excellent mish-mash of different styles and aesthetics helping to immediately sell me on what it was about. I can’t wait for Pixel Ripped: 2017 in which everything is loot boxes and microtransactions in single-player games.
Pixel Ripped: 1989 is a brilliantly fun VR throwback that's hampered by a short length and wild difficulty spikes.Microtransactions: none