2D boxed in space shooters are a genre I hate to love, but love them I do. The gameplay is always very close to all the other games in the genre and it’s always inherently flawed. Yet I still continue to play them. It all started with Asteroids and Geometry Wars turned it into something even more intolerable, yet also several times more addictive. My mind continually tells me no, but my body always successfully counters with yeah. So here I am reviewing the phenomenal, yet also inherently flawed Pixel Galaxy by Serenity Forge and before you ask, yes I am addicted.
Pixel Galaxy is a well-made pixel art 2D “shooter” that does just about everything right and the literally one thing it does wrong is the same flaw that just about every other level based game in the genre has. Yet this game approaches the genre in a completely different way as far as core gameplay mechanics, making a wholly new, but still traditional feeling experience. If not for the mildly high price I’d tell you to skip the review and buy this game right now.
While it is a pixel game, to say that it looks pixelated would be a blatant lie. This is some of the best interactive pixel art I’ve ever seen. I will admit that everything in the game is pretty simple and spread out so there aren’t too many moments where pixilation even has a chance to occur. It’s simple, yet intricate at the same time. What you see on screen is not about any one specific focal point, but instead the patchwork of constantly moving and interacting pieces that create something beautiful in its totality. Honestly the whole game is made up of two different sizes of squares, various colors, and a bit of animated flare for some added character. This focus on simplicity is not to downplay the graphics, but to praise them. It’s an immaculate looking flow of sometimes more than a hundred different moving objects all working together to blow your mind. Often you get so distracted by what you’re seeing that you end up dying in awe of the level.
A solid background covered in occasionally changing reds, greens, blues, purples, and several other colors and it all starts with a single white pixel every round. The game looks and runs great in any of the several available resolutions in either windowed or full screen play. And when you’re not playing, the menus are great too. Perfect Arial block text in several different colors, with a music interactive background. The menu also changes colors sparingly just like the game. But most impressive looking are the bosses. The several different monstrosities painstakingly concocted out of pixels all have their own shape and character with a name plate to boot. While most of the bosses will piss you off, they will do so in style. The only visual issue I had was one instance where the tutorial text cut off the screen in windowed play. Ultimately a great looking game.
The gameplay is solid. In fact, it’s one of the smoothest running games in this genre I’ve ever played. Mechanically it’s original, interesting, and for the most part very sound while still being pull your hair out challenging. You can use a gamepad or keyboard. Both work well, but the genre just works better with a joystick. You can also play cooperative with two on one keyboard or one gamepad and one keyboard. You control a white pixel that has no abilities other than turning left or right and moving. When you touch other pixels (squares of the same size), they connect to your original pixel on the spot they were touched by. Different pixels do different things. All act as shields, but some can take multiple hits, some speed you up, and others are weapons. You can’t control the weapons as in shoot them. They auto shoot at their own pace. You can only choose the direction they’re aiming which is done by moving around and spinning the mass. You can spin in either direction at any time. The field is constantly barraged with enemy pixels, all of which can be claimed upon contact, and waves of bullets (noticeably smaller squares). Whenever a piece of your mass makes contact with a bullet it is lost. You die when the original pixel is hit unless you have an extra life (obtained by collecting a boss pixel). Even if you have 100 additional pixels connected, contact between the main pixel and a bullet is instant death. You often don’t even see it coming.
You play for high score. Your score is defined by the number of seconds you survived, the number of pixels you collected, and the number of pixels you destroyed. Scores are tracked per difficulty and all the leaderboards are separated based on difficulty as well. Your time survived clock pauses during boss fights which is pretty bogus if you ask me.
There are six different difficulties plus two boss fight modes. Each difficulty must be unlocked by completing the difficulty before it. The tutorial is mandatory. The one flaw I mentioned before is that the only way to progress to the next difficulty is to defeat the first boss in each mode. Each mode has multiple bosses but the first one must be defeated to unlock the next difficulty. This system is not flawed at face value but once you realize that you have to survive for 99 seconds before the boss fight it becomes decidedly unfair. 99 seconds is a long time in this game. Especially once you get to the third difficulty and higher. Accomplishing that alone is quite the feat. To then have to fight a boss, many of which are extremely unfair in a one hit kill scenario is almost intolerable. What Serenity Forge should have done is made it so that if you survive a certain amount of time in each difficulty regardless of the boss fights you unlock the next difficulty. Honestly the fun is not the boss fights in Pixel Galaxy. They are very creative and impressive, each with its own fighting style. But the true enjoyment is getting to the boss fights and that should have been the focus of the game.
What I really like about this gameplay is that a whole new type of strategy is employed. The first is choosing when to collect and when to destroy pixels. Your first instinct is to collect as many pixels as possible, but it’s not always the best strategy. Different pixels have different attacks, which you absorb with the pixel. And the bigger you grow the more potential shields you have. But the constant waves of bullets make navigating the map with a huge mass of pixels almost impossible. There are often times where you have to take damage and must decide which side of your mass you want to sacrifice. You end up dropping from totally legit to near death in a matter of seconds quite often.
The coop works exactly the same way as single player mode except there are two independently operating main pixels and they can revive each other by touching one another an unlimited amount of times. Once both are dead at the same time the round is over. Unbalanced boss fights aside, Pixel Galaxy has well-crafted and highly addictive gameplay.
The sound gets a solid A from me. Good music with a number of tracks based on which difficulty you’re in plus a menu track. It’s high quality, crystal clear, but not distracting music which works great with the graphics and gameplay. The sound effects are also very well done and extremely appropriate. Noticeable but not at all distracting. If anything this is one of those games where the sound really does give the game a rhythm that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but really needs. You have volume controls for music and sound separately, but I say the default 100%/100% is perfect.
Other than the tutorial and menus, this game has no writing, but the text is real nice looking. Also make sure to watch the credits and you’ll notice that your Steam ID is added into them, making you feel so cool for being part of a game even if only ceremonially.
The game certainly has a lot of replay value, but before that even becomes an issue you’ll have to complete six difficulty modes, four of which you may never defeat, a boss rush mode, and a boss coliseum mode along with 109 achievements. Some of them are pretty simple to get, but with 109 you’ll be plenty busy if you’re a completionist. Plus you’ve got those leaderboards to contend with. I think the $10 price tag is a bit higher than it should be, but at the same time it’s definitely a 10 hour game if you count deaths. If it goes on sale for $5 at any time, this game is a must buy.
I have no problem saying that I loved playing Pixel Galaxy. I still haven’t finished all the difficulties and I find the whole thing extremely frustrating, but I fully endorse the experience. If you like 2D space style shooters, there’s no excuse not to buy this game. And if you’re already bald you have nothing to worry about.
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