Saturday, 24 November 2012

They Bleed Pixels (PC)

They Bleed Pixels logo
Here's another game requested by the internet: cute Lovecraftian horror platformer They Bleed Pixels, available exclusively on Steam I believe. Sorry if you were hoping I was going to play another obscure retro game, but hey this looks a bit retro at least. Plus it only uses two buttons, just like a NES game! Kind of.

(Click the pictures to see them at the original resolution.)

The intro shows an animation of this young girl being dropped off at the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies one miserable foggy evening. Sinister looking place, but I've got to admire the pixel craftsmanship.

As the girl knocks on the front door downstairs, a shadowy figure in the floor above puts into action a dark ritual, using his own blood to activate the sinister magics contained within this tuning fork manual. Surprisingly he didn't actually bleed pixels, though I suppose you could argue that being on a computer his blood had to be made up of them.

And now the girl's got claws for some reason and is kicking demons into spikes in a nightmare world. Scene missing?

The tutorial explains the controls well, which is good because they're not quite what you'd expect. Every attack is performed with the same button (redefinable, thank fuck we're in the future now) but just tapping or holding the button triggers a harmless kick. Well harmless if the enemy isn't standing in front of spikes anyway. To inflict damage I have to pull towards the enemy while I'm hitting attack, though it still takes a fair few smacks to kill these creatures.

Oh right, now the tutorial's over I finally get to see the explanation for the claws. A book fell on her and she got claws.

The sinister magic has also turned her skin a healthy shade of purple. And so her clothes don't feel left out, her dress has also been cursed with a classy skull pattern.

Oh, and they also threw a Lovecraft quote on screen, just to make sure that reviewers mention that it's 'Lovecraft inspired' in their reviews.

It's funny how the developers took the time to include a detailed tutorial explaining every move... and then filled the first level with notes explaining every move. Not that I'm complaining, I could use the extra reinforcement to help things sink in.

So many indie games are being released with retro style low colour pixel art graphics like this these days, and personally I think it's fantastic. It's an art style born of technical limitations, but there's no reason to just abandon it now the limitations are gone.

Whoa, a new feature I've honestly never seen in a game before. Beating up enemies and collecting pick-ups charges up my claw bar on the top left of the screen. Once it's filled the character starts glowing, and I checkpoint appears after I've I stopped moving.

This is good for two reasons. First, yay checkpoints! And second, this is a system that encourages taking risks and exploring by offering up the most valuable reward I could want in a video game: not having to replay the last section of level again when I inevitably screw up. It's bloody brilliant is what it is.

The trick to combat so far seems to be to locate the nearest trap, then encourage nearby enemies to fall into it with my foot. Plus there's bonus points for chaining together combos, so it's to my benefit to get as much pixelly blood on screen as I can manage.

I can't just punch these monsters to death on the ground, as they soon start to block my attacks. But in an emergency, like if there's no spikes handy, I can kick them into the air and hit them all the way down. Usually seems to do the job.

Great, now I'm sliding down a wall, dodging spinning saw blades, while dripping blood everywhere. You know, this is all very familiar somehow...

I played Super Meat Boy again for a bit just before trying this out to give myself a point of reference, and it'd be fair to say the two games do feel very similar in how they play. Though Meat Boy has a run button, and this has a double jump.

In fact this is all about the double jumping. I mean look at this, I have to jump around a corner just to make progress. The girl has three hit points (another big difference to Meat Boy), but all the hit points in the world aren't going to save me if I mess up this jump.

But first I'm grabbing that bonus thing on the left. I don't think it does anything, I haven't come across a powerup in the game yet, but I want it anyway.

Well fuck. Now what do I do? The game's dropped the door down behind me so I can't get out. I suppose all I can do now is throw myself into the spikes, respawn at the checkpoint, and try to find a different route.

Oh, turns out I can just walk through them. Well... okay then.

And that's level one! It only took me... damn, 12 minutes? Still, at least I only lost four lives, that's a big change from Super Meat Boy where I'd end up sacrificing tens of Meat Boys to achieve victory in each level. And those were tiny levels in comparison too. Yeah, I think I can live with getting a C grade.

Completing a chapter has earned me another cutscene, and it turns out that last level was all just a dream. Except our poor heroine has woken up to find her hands have turned purple, and that book's been staring at her all night.

You know, I bet that guy in the middle has something to do with all this. His picture is far more vivid than the others, like we're meant to be noticing it. Plus it's got a Cthulu frame.

Yeah, burying it, that's sure to work! I reckon she should have tried setting it on fire.

Kicking enemies in saw blades! Why didn't I think of doing this sooner? I don't think he's going to be climbing out of that one.

Uh, what?  Those things spike up when I go over them? Well that's a bit awkward, seeing as that's a moving platform I'm standing on. I guess I just need to get the timing right so I can jump over each in turn as the platform moves across.


SOON.

Man I'm crap at this. Look at all the ghosts of my previous attempts, lining the spikes. Still, I've got infinite lives, I can do this!

Potentially.


SOME TIME LATER.


YES! I did it, I made it across the bloody spikes! Checkpoint is down, and I'm safe.

Huh, there's a page behind this door? But how do I open the door? Oh I just have to trigger those bomb guys down there on the left to explode and hit the switch... but to do that I need to go jumping around over the spikes again. I'm going to be leaping over these bloody things all night at this rate.

I lost 42 lives on this level in the end, after 23 minutes of failure. But hey that's still a C grade!


LATER, ON THE NEXT LEVEL.


No cutscene before this level, I was been kicked right back into the action. Just like how I've kicked this guy up into a spike. One impalement isn't going to be enough though, so I'll have to stick around if I want to kill him for extra claw power. On the other hand, I've come a pretty long way to get here since the last checkpoint, so I don't want to be taking unnecessary risks.

Jumping up to grab those red dots might be worth it though, if they'll get me full checkpoint power.

Unfortunately I can't drop a checkpoint on these frictionless floors, so I need to keep going to find a good bit of ground. I have to be careful though, as just trying to slow down on this stuff could send me flying the opposite direction into a spike, and I don't have many hearts to spare.

FINALLY I can drop a checkpoint! Wait, what? Why isn't this working? Oh there's bloody falling spike traps in the way, that's why. I hope there's enough space on this platform for this or I'll be very unhappy. Placing a checkpoint doesn't just give me a place to respawn, it also refills my health. Which is very handy when you don't have any. 

There we go. A bit of carnage makes a nice relaxing break from the platforming. Though I have to be careful, as this is slippery ground again. Skidding into an enemy won't harm me, but landing in those spikes definitely will.

14 minutes and only 14 deaths for that last level. Which is of course a grade C, like always.

This level looks like it's going to cost a lot more lives though, as they've taken away the floor and stuck spikes on top of every platform. Mario never had to put up with this.

Oh wait, there's the floor. I've found it.

Damn, it must have taken those demons forever to put all these down. It's a really impressive piece of construction work. I wonder if they assembled it out of prefabricated sections...

Man, what am I even talking about? I think I've been staring at this game too long and it's driving me mad.

Just so you don't think it's all about kicking monsters into spikes, here's a shot of the ghosts that have been bothering me for the last part of this level. There's also been some little dudes with swords, the bomb guys you've seen, plus some nasty little flying things that dive at me.

I suppose I could just ignore them, flip the switches, and drop into the exit. But nah, I've got a full set of hearts, I can afford to take a dumb chance and re-kill their dead ass.

And that's another nightmare over. (I got a C grade if you were wondering).

But the book came back, the very next day. Plus her purple hand problem is getting worse.

It's a good idea, but somehow I doubt it's going to work. Mostly because I'm probably only a third of the way through the game.

Hang on, are those tentacles on that bridge? Plus there's the claw logo again on the sides. In fact looking back I'm spotting that claw logo on everything. Creepy.


Alright, that's They Bleed Pixels then. It's stylish straightforward platformer with a few cutscenes scattered in between levels to add a little plot. Like Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami, I found it more than sadistic enough, but the challenge is broken down into small pieces so it doesn't give you the frustration of having to endlessly replay huge sections of the level. It's about getting something right then moving on, rather than mastering a level. But like those two games, it does has a level select, so you can return to older levels to work towards getting a better grade and earn achievements if you want. Shame I can't say the music's as good though, and some of the tunes get old after 15 minutes of looping.

I'm struggling to find anything bad to say about it though really. It looks like it may be a little short I guess, and I suppose it could get a bit repetitive. Also boss fight fans may be sad to hear that I haven't come across one yet, though for all I know it could be all boss fights from here on out. Anyway, what I've played of the game so far makes me want to recommend it to anyone who's finding themselves halfway interested.


Anything you want to say about They Bleed Pixels, or the site in general? Comments are welcome.

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