Reviewed on Steam
With an overwhelming amount of.. 1 vote (which was my own), the first game of the Steam Hidden Gems list to be reviewed is Super Life of Pixel! I’ve first played this game in 2015 when it was still known as Life of Pixel, and was attached right away. There are quite a lot of indie games that cash in on the success of retro games nostalgia, but this game is probably one of, if not the only game I can remember that takes consoles and home computers from before the time Nintendo took over the gaming industry. I originate from an era where 64-bit was already happening so while I don’t exactly have fond memories of anything before the NES (I’ve only played on the Atari once and that’s it), I was really excited to delve into gaming generations I had no knowledge of. Of course, we also need to have a good game aside from the nostalgia, so today we’re delving back into the history of video gaming with Super Life of Pixel!
Life of Pixel was first released in January 2013 and eventually re-released as Super Life of Pixel in 2018 where it also got a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita release. The game is developed by a British independent multi-platform game development studio from the United Kingdom called Super Icon Ltd. They currently develop games for all current generation consoles except the Xbox One, and have well over 14 years of game development experience. Their expertise used to be sports games in the PlayStation 2 and Wii era, but right now they’re creating great indie games with a retro feel. Some of their games include a run ‘n gun game called Best Buds vs Bad Guys, an upcoming 2D Platform game maker using assets from Life of Pixel called PlataGO! and even a free game that delves into multiple genres called They came from Beyond. All great looking games that I will definitely check out some day. The game was published by Whitemoon Dreams, a Los Angeles based publisher consisting of various veterans from the gaming industry.
Pixel is a little green.. pixel who is strong and independent and doesn’t want to be part of the huge pixel crowd. Being the rebel that he is, he escapes the crowd and stumbles across a video game museum. Curious as he is, he enters the museum and finds a bunch of retro consoles, ranging from the ZX81 all the way to the SNES! With his magical.. pixel powers, he enters the consoles and ventures through the history of video games. There is not much story outside of that, it’s just Pixel going through the history of video games. Which is understandable, it’s not like this game really needs a grand story to accompany that.
Levels are selectable per console, which are placed next to each other in the main menu. Unfortunately the museum itself isn’t used as hub world or serves any other purpose, which is a missed opportunity but only a small nitpick. After selecting a console of choice, the Professor–the guide of this game–gives a small dialogue about the console’s history, as well as some of the specs the console was known for. While I’m not really a specs guy so none of it really means anything to me, I do greatly appreciate the information given in advance. It’s a simple method to learn more about the console’s history while also introducing you to the upcoming stages. The Professor appears several times throughout the game to introduce you to new developments and evolution in gaming, like scrolling backgrounds or different usage of colour. He also serves as a hint for hidden objects in stages, without directly telling you where to go; he literally just mentions he smells something.
The levels themselves are designed in artstyle similar to the original consoles, only far more fluid and with a slightly modern coating because it is a modern indie game after all. The environment is usually based around popular games from said system as well, which delivered me quite a lot of joy. It was great seeing levels designed after games such as Wonder Boy or Super Castlevania IV, games that I loved quite a lot. They look great overall, and also test your pixel skills by putting hidden areas behind slight alterations in graphics. Some of them are pretty hard to find, but it’s rewarding. Unfortunately–with the exception of the professor–, there is nothing that lets you know what stages have what collectables, so you’re either forced to revisit all levels and see if there’s a professor, or just look up a guide. Fortunately, it does show when you have found a collectable in a stage right next to the level select.
At first, Pixel doesn’t have that much of a skillset. He can jump and.. that’s it. Over time he gains the ability to double jump or enter vehicles so there is a slight improvement. Most of the times when he travels to a new console, he becomes a bit more agile because of technical limitations being lessened. I wasn’t too fond of not being able to control how high you jump at first, but that is addressed in later generations. What’s even better, you can go back to old consoles and still have these more agile movements. There is no reason to revisit older generations other than your own enjoyment and eventually collectables if you missed them, but I’m happy I don’t downgrade constantly by going back. While Pixel does constantly evolve over the game, unfortunately, he doesn’t gain anything other than more agile movements and a double jump. I would have loved to see his health being increased for example, but it will always be the same two hits that you can take.
Stages have a start and end, not necessarily just horizontally but also vertically. To open the gate at the very end, you need to collect all the shiny diamonds in one go. They are scattered all across the level, but since most levels are decently linear it’s unlikely you’ll have to actively search for them. Other collectables in a stage include special gems, fruits–of which half isn’t even a fruit–, and special consoles. They all function to unlock more consoles later on with a set of eight stages, two for the special collections. While most stages are just platforming challenges, some also add gimmicks like an anti-gravity switch, minecart sections or having to blow up walls to proceed. Obstacles also come in different varieties, like um.. some sort of liquid dropping from the ceiling, giant saw blades and more. But most of the time the stages aren’t too special. The environments are the main attraction here, and they do deliver on that front.
The game has very few power-ups, if you can even call them that. I mentioned the vehicles before, but they only allow you to go faster and nothing else. The only useful ”vehicle” in my opinion is the jetpack because it allows you to fly with the push of a button. There is a potion which heals you and allows you to kill enemies, but they appear very infrequent. Since there is no way to defeat enemies otherwise, the only thing you can do is avoid them and hope you’re not taking damage. It only takes two hits from an enemy to kill you, and that means starting the stage all over again, losing the entire progress you built up to that point with the exception of collectables such as fruits. For short stages this isn’t too bad, but if you die at the end of a long stage by randomly appearing spikes you’ll get frustrated easily.
The game has no bosses which is a shame, but I can understand it since Pixel isn’t saving the world or anything, neither can he attack. I still would have liked to see them obviously but eh, can’t have everything. The monsters aren’t necessarily designed after classic enemies and moreso generic enemies like zombies. They aren’t anything special really; they walk or fly around and that’s it. Later on they do attack actively but at first, you may as well be invisible. Though they do have the tendency to turn around the moment you jump over them. This really sucks in areas with especially low ceilings, almost forcing you to take a hit. And then there are the robot enemies who move up and down, but their movement is completely random so avoiding them is pretty tough as well.
This game is advertised as being difficult and.. I disagree, at the very least not the campaign till the original end. The so-called difficulty comes from hidden spikes appearing from the floor, one of the cheapest obstacles in all of gaming if you ask me. Touch it even slightly and you have to do the whole stage all over again. This game is perfectly doable, but don’t trust the game and be patient. If there’s a long hallway or several platforms to jump to, you can almost expect there to be spikes. The latter half of the game–especially the special systems–become more drawn-out than actually difficult. I’m not trying to sound like an elitist, and you will most likely die a lot, but that’s just my opinion. The game takes about 12 hours to complete (double that amount if playing on Steam because of the old version achievements), whereas beating the game can vary because of where the game can be considered beaten. The original game ended after the NES, but the Super Life of Pixel update technically ends elsewhere. Every level also has a timer for speedrunning, with a leaderboard available globally for extra replayability.
It’s hard to talk about the graphics when they are literally made to look like their respective console counterparts, but regardless they do look good. The game runs smooth as well, and has both a windowed and fullscreen mode on PC. In a recent update they also included a ”quick restart” button for an easy restart without you having to kill yourself and making the death counter go up. Speaking of, there is a death counter by the way, but it doesn’t really have any use aside from bragging about the least amount of deaths. I am not enough of an expert to say whether the OST could potentially work on their respective consoles, but they replicate it pretty well with catchy tunes, like the SNES music!
Super Life of Pixel is a pleasant return to the history of video games, and probably one of the best to do so for consoles and home computers before Nintendo started their domination. Every console is represented well with both graphics and music, and the stages are nicely designed with a ton of secrets to find. That said however, this game has an unhealthy addiction to hidden spikes. Couple that with Pixel himself not changing throughout the entire game and only getting more agile due to lesser console limitations, which makes the gameplay overall working well, but simple. The nostalgic references to old games more than make up for it, but what I’m trying to say is: the game could potentially be even better. And I see the potential in this project, so I’d definitely like to see this expanded upon! And with that, here is my final verdict for Super Life of Pixel:
Hope you enjoyed my review of Super Life of Pixel! The game is available for Steam, Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita for a good price, usually ranging around 8 to 10 bucks. I really enjoyed this revisit and I hope I may have convinced you to take a look at this game as well. Let me know what you thought of the review, and I’ll see you next time!