By Mento 1 Comments
May the Twenty-First
The source: The Retro Groupees Bundle
The pre-amble: Dead Pixels is a highly referential side-scrolling zombie shooter presented in a deliberately low-tech pixel style with VHS noise effects over the top. The player chooses the length of the game and attempts to get through several long screens filled with zombies, using the items and weapons purloined from abandoned buildings and traded with opportunistic survivors in order to make it to the end alive. It purports to homage zombie movies first and foremost, but plenty more of the references are in service to other zombie video games like Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead.
The playthrough: Dead Pixels is quite meh. It's very much a "what you see is what you get" scenario, which in this case is a zombie game with pixel art. Functional enough without being terribly exciting or novel. I guess I must have unconsciously chosen to cover it as a response to this new Xbox One announcement, which didn't simply underwhelm with a lack of innovation as manage to adhere to every pessimistic prediction anyone had about the new Xbox, save for a new variant on the occasional catastrophic red ring failures, though I guess even that remains to be seen. When it happens maybe they can spin it as, "Oh, you didn't leave it connected to the internet for the one hour per day required? Then you're entirely culpable for your own console melting into your living room carpet."
But that's a whole generation away from today's game. Several, in fact, if we think of Dead Pixel as an 8-bit game that was magically transported to this decade. This is supported in part by how clearly it is based on River City Ransom's model of large portions of action gameplay interspersed with the occasional bit of shopping and perfunctory stat upgrading. However, the whole 8-bit approach is something of a fallacy, given the many advanced features of the game that the NES couldn't possibly handle, so it's really more a tongue-in-cheek admission that drawing and animating real graphics is hard and drawing from nostalgia for the 1980s (and zombies) is way easier. Dead Pixels is hardly the only tromboner on this irritating bandwagon (which also includes Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, which is almost entirely wagons) but it's still one of those lazy gimmicks that the Indie game industry is going to have to collectively elect to do away with like a pair of training wheels. We had a period when pixel art was all the rage: it was called 1972 to the mid-90s. Hire a darn artist you wusses; there are plenty out there that could use the work.
I'll end this appraisal by talking about the references. I actually don't mind them. References are only really an annoyance when they're front and center and the focus of the humor. In Dead Pixels, there's less of a sense of humor in general and the dumb little shout-outs spraypainted on the background ("RIP Bill") or in the titles of shops ("Savini's") or as the names of the weapons ("Burton Handgun", "Chambers Shotgun") are subsequently just dressing for fans to appreciate and non-fans to obliviously accept as what things are called in this semi-serious apocalyptic world. This is opposed to something like Lollipop Chainsaw, which is absolutely capable of being funny on its own given it has James Gunn penning the script without needing to half-ass it with a quote from a movie accompanied with a wink, which only compounds on the egregiousness the more often they show up. We get it, these are all classic moments in zombie fiction. Would it behoove you to create some classic moments of your own?
The verdict: Nah, though it's a perfectly OK game. I'm just more grousy than usual today after that conference.