Sunday, 19 April 2015

VR: Life of Pixel

Review by @madsdk

Developer: Super Icon
Year: 2014
Genre: Platformer

With this post I'd like to introduce you to a new section here on the Retro Gaming Club site - Virtually Retro. In the Virtually Retro section we will write about modern games, that have their roots in retro gaming. The retro bug has been spreading like wildfire amongst the indie developers the last couple of years, and in this section we will cover some of the titles that we have personally enjoyed playing.

Life of pixel is a digital love letter to the golden age of gaming. In it you follow the titular Pixel, a small green (or grey in the monochrome levels) pixel who journeys through video game history, starting on the humble ZX81 and travelling through the different 8 and 16-bit systems to find out where pixels began life. The game is a platformer that uses not only the aestetics and colour schemes of the systems it emulates, it also faithfully reproduces the sound systems, and emulates the faults and weaknesses of those systems - so expect color clash on the ZX Spectrum, single screen platforming on the early systems, going to whole screen scrolling on later systems, only to become real smooth scrolling on other system. This love of details, this faithful reproduction of the systems of yore, is at the heart of Life of Pixel. If you grew up with some of these systems or are interested in the history of gaming, you'll love Life of Pixel.

You begin your journey on the ZX81
At the outset the goal of the game seems simple: collect the bit-gems (blinking squares) in order to open the exit and continue to the next level. These levels are tests of you platforming skill, as they require precise jumping and timing. But in true modern platforming form, the game plays around with its own premise from time to time, adding new features and goals as you move through the different systems. Take for example the gravity inversion that is used in a few levels, when you in true VVVVVV fashion turn the world upside down at the flick of a switch. Adding such a gameplay feature turns platforming fun into puzzle solving, adding yet another layer of complexity and enjoyment to the game. Later levels sees you jumping on floating bubbles, flying using jetpacks, using a skateboard and more. Did I mention the secrets? In true retro gaming form, the game is riddled with secrets for you to find. Remember talking to Professor Pixel, as he will often hint at where or how you should be looking for secrets in a given level.

ZX Spectrum - notice the slight colour clash around the diamond.
Apart from being entertained by the pure platforming bliss, you'll actually learn something playing this game. Whenever you enter a new system, you are introduced to the system by Professor Pixel, who tells you something about the system you are about to play around in. Professor Pixel can also be found in different levels, where he will tell you further details of the games being developed for the system and other little tidbits of relevant information.

Professor Pixel is teaching us about the Speccy.
But that's enough talking for now, these screenshots should be enough to convince you that Life of Pixel is a wonderful homage to 8- and 16-bit retro games.

Nintendo GameBoy
Atari 2600
Sega Master System
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Luckily the game is not all history lesson, it's also just a damn good game. If you're playing this game, you're probably of the old school, so a punishingly hard platforming experience should be right up your alley. Life of Pixel is a modern take on the hard-as-nails platforming of the good old days, where you will die, die, and die again, until you finally beat the level. It's not as punishing and disrespectful of your time as the real retro games though, as you have infinite lives and therefore only need to restart the current level each time you die, and the restarting of the level is almost instantaneous. The platforming is tightly controlled, well balanced, and fun, and of course it becomes more and more taxing as you move along, but it never becomes impossible - just damned hard. So when you nail one of the later levels, you'll fell the well known satisfaction of completing a difficult task, which was what we gamers lived for back in the day.

Sega Mega Drive
Life of Pixel satisfies two of my gaming urges: retro gaming and platformers. I love retro platformers, but modern platformers like for example Super Meat Boy and 'Splosion Man are also favourites of mine, so a game like Life of Pixel that is part retro homage and part modern platforming goodness is just the ticket for me. Go check out Life of Pixel right now, if you're just a little bit me you won't regret it!

Life of Pixel is available for Mac and PC online right here: or on Steam. If you'd rather have it on a console there's a Wii U version coming out in Q2 of 2015, and there used to be a version on the PS Mobile store for Vita, but I can't seem to find it at the moment. But go give the PC or Mac version a try now - it's only a few bucks ;-)


  1. Great review Mads.. I love this game, with the look and feel to each system being perfectly captured. But man is this game is so hard.. I got about half way through and after an whole night on one damn level raged quit lol ... must go back to it though.

    1. Thanks Paul. It is quite hard! I just started playing it again, and this time I'm going to beat it :)