Indie Review: They Bleed Pixels
They Bleed Pixels is an old-school platformer that blends intense get-it-right-the-first-time platforming with bloody beat em' up action. Read on to find out how it measures up.
- Worth The Time?Yes, but mainly if you're into hectic platforming.
- Things LovedThe gameplay is fun and pulls off the 'simple to play hard to master' system very well, the challenge involved, the awesome do-it-yourself checkpoints, the music is really cool, the stages look great, the story is interesting.
- Things HatedIt can get seriously frustrating, there's almost no room for error, stages can take long to clear on your first go, the difficulty curve is too steep, there are only a handful of different enemy types in the game.
- RecommendationIf you're into hardcore platformers, this is definitely the right game for you, as it's seriously challenging and great to play. But if you get angry easily, don't come near this game as you might end up having a stroke.
- Name: They Bleed Pixels
- Genre: Platformer
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, XBLA
- Developer: Spooky Squid Games
- Publisher: Spooky Squid Games
- Price: $9.99 (about R82)
- Reviewed On: PC
I’m currently going through a spree where I’m playing lots of games I consider to be good quality. And I’m quite happy to add They Bleed Pixels to that list. Sure, it frustrated the hell out of me sometimes, especially in the later stages because of its intense difficulty, but it’s an all-round very well designed game and it’s great to play with a rather interesting story, so it was definitely worth the time. The game is about a young girl, who goes nameless and is attending the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies. She stumbles upon some mysterious bleeding tome in the library, and it’s clear that some evil magic exists within the book because once she gets hold of it, she starts to have twisted dreams in which her skin is purple, her arms are bloody claws and she’s fighting all sorts of horrors. However, these aren’t just dreams, as her real body eventually starts following the same transformation, and once this happens she starts trying to get rid of the book, but it always returns for her.
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The gameplay focuses on intense, get-it-right-the-first-time platforming with some beat em’ up action on the side. Platforming is mostly about timing your jumps and moves to almost perfection as you jump, double jump, wall slide and slide your way through levels. The combat system focuses on one button that is context-sensitive, and has many different functions as a result, either by tapping the attack button, holding it or using it in combination with the directional keys or in context sensitive situations. You can perform basic slashes, ground slashes, air slashes and air combos, dash strikes and strikes from above, and you can also launch your enemy into the air by holding down the button or kick them backwards to break their guard. The combat is a lot about using the environmental hazards to your advantage, so you’ll need to learn how to kick your enemies into traps like spikes or spinning razor blades, as well as juggle them or force them into death traps. It’s extremely amusing to see the amount of blood you’ll spill from these brutal kills. But later, it becomes easier said than done.
While the combat initially is an important part of the game, in the later stages it takes a bit of a back seat to the hectic platforming and becomes more of a tool to get enemies out of your face so you don’t die. The platforming will get so intense that you’ll later start abusing the environmental hazards in any way you can, or even avoiding enemies entirely. This is also because you can’t just mash buttons to win. Admittedly, there aren’t that many enemy types in the game, but the handful of them that there are all require different approaches. Some will require you to break their guards with a kick, while others have windows of vulnerability for you to strike and so on. Enemies don’t become easier or more difficult themselves as the game progresses, even when you gain access to more combat moves, but they do become harder to get rid of because of the challenging scenarios you’ll find yourself in. This is a very unique approach to enemies, and I find it to work out really good, and much prefer it to what most games do by simply throwing enemies at you that deal more damage or have more hit points.
There’s a drawback to avoiding fights, because killing enemies and mixing up your moves to get a higher combo multiplier works towards giving you blood points, which build up your meter which is used for the game’s checkpoint system. You can also fill it by collecting floating blood pints in levels. The checkpoint system itself is an excellent idea, and wonderfully executed. Basically, you have three hearts for your health bar, so getting hit three times means death. Once you build up your blood meter, you can stand still for a few seconds to summon a checkpoint in that exact point and recover all your health. You’ll respawn at this point when you die until you create a new checkpoint or finish the level. You can continue from this point even if you quit the game, but you won’t be counted in the leaderboards. The catch though is that you can’t summon a checkpoint if you’re not on a solid surface, if an enemy is nearby or if a trap is nearby, so it can be really hard to get a break later on in the game. However, the system is fantastic because it allows you to strategically decide where you want to place your checkpoints and not have to repeat long-winded sections again after death if you place them right.
The checkpoint system works great for the most part, but it does get caught up in the game’s really high difficulty sometimes. There are many occasions in the game where you go through extended, highly intense platforming sections with no breaks in between, and it can become frustrating to be unable to create a checkpoint. This gets me to probably the biggest flaw with the game, which is that the difficulty curve is a bit too steep. Simple combat situations and straightforward jumping scenarios all too soon become exercises in pure pain as you’re required to perform master acts in platforming to avoid spikes, spike traps, moving spinning blades, jump through the tiniest of gaps and fight off enemies while platforming. Yes, it’s very intense and often rewarding once you succeed, but it can be grimly frustrating often, testing your endurance to the max in the later stages. The problem isn’t just difficulty, it’s also that there’s barely any room for error later. You need to be perfect. You may have three health points, but getting hit once often disorientates your character so badly that you’ll bounce all over the place, plummet to your death or just get killed instantly because of one tiny error.
The insane difficulty can also make this game last you quite long, which is both a good and bad thing. That sounds contradictory, so let’s elaborate. It’s good for obvious reasons, but also bad because certain stages, of which there are 14 in total, can be finished in minutes if you’re pro, but on your first go you may end up taking up to half an hour or forty minutes trying to clear it. You may even be stuck on one section for twenty minutes. And the longer the game goes on, the more it tests you and threatens to make you punch a hole right through your screen. But maybe I like punishment, because this is both what I loved and hated about the game. Getting a good challenge and beating it is always satisfying, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for calling quits on this game near to the end. It’s not impossible or the hardest game you’ll ever play, but it becomes an exercise in grim endurance and many, many, many endless trials in pain and repetition until you make that pitch perfect jump or landing.
All that said and done, it’s very difficult to determine how long it will take you to finish this game, because that could range from a number of reasonable hours to all eternity. Jokes aside, there are some extras and incentives to stick around once you finish or give up on the main story. There’s lots of achievements if you like self-punishment, there’s unloackable concept art, and there also bonus levels created by other indie developers. These are really nice additions and completely change up the game’s morbid graphical style, but these levels are also no less punishing and difficult than you’ll find in the main story. These levels are also free, so there’s no reason not to enjoy them.
The game’s graphical style blends pixel art with paper and ink textures, and it’s a rather distinct look that is executed very well. The colours are dull and morbid, but it all looks great in motion and well animated. It gives the game a very old-school feeling while still looking attractive to the eye. And the best part is that each stage has its own unique look as well as its own soundtrack. The music is really fantastic, and each stage possesses a tune that is fitting, great to listen to and generally hard to dislike, which helps ease the pain you’ll suffer playing through the harder parts in the game. The game also features classic pixel art motion comics, very much like the old-school point and click adventure games you may have played back in the day. These are cool to watch, very nicely detailed and do a good job of presenting the story, although you do wish there were a bit more of them in the game.
They Bleed Pixels may have a few faults in its execution, but it’s great to play, very well made and well worth the time in the end. This is the game to go for if you’re into old-school, hardcore platformers and if you’re looking for a solid challenge to put your reflexes, skills and precision to the extreme test. The game is mostly well designed and is rewarding to get through, but please, if you suffer from anger management issues it would be in your best interests to avoid it. Although, I’d still recommend in that case that you at least give the game’s soundtrack a listen, because it’s awesome.