Just like absolutely every single person on this planet, which nears around seven billion last time I counted, I too was once regaled by the awe and wonderment that was (or is if you’re going to be one of those people) Super Mario Bros. Though constructed out of no more than a handful of pixels, this game and others like it (Contra, Zelda, etc.) marked a turning point in the platform adventure genre’s history, one that happily paved the way for some of the masterpieces we enjoy today. Though these primogenitors (guess who’s been reading a lot of Warhammer 40K) of the current gaming industry stand proud in the hall of fame, I can honestly say without fear of public stoning that I have not and probably will not go back and play any of these in the near future.
This isn’t a slight against Italian plumbers or platform games in general, I deeply respect these ancients for what they did to the community, it’s just that with the massive variety of game types and the healthy upsurge in graphics and overall quality, I’m simply much too swamped and way too spoiled to go back to my roots just yet. I understand the ears of several readers just started bleeding and fingers blistered from the speed of such a hastily-crafted comeback on how I suck such-and-such bags of body parts, but really, how many of you dusted off the ol’ cartridge and went to town last night (…on second thought, keep it to yourselves)? My point is, as great as some of the old pixelated platformers were, they’ve now been cast aside to make way for the bigger and better. As sad as that actually makes me, I’m here to tell you to fear not! Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign (ending on the fourth of Spooky Month, or October if the child inside you is dead), the fine folks of TicToc Games are on their way to releasing an all new, beautifully crafted platformer, complete with all the bells and whistles expected of today’s games. Adventures of Pip promises to bring back that cozy Super Mario Bros. feel, all the while surprising players with a couple of cute tricks and features!
Set in the magical land of Pixel Kingdom (I didn’t say they deserve credit for creative nomenclature), you, a lad named Pip, are forced to watch as some nasty trollop going by the name “Skeleton Queen” sucks up all the kingdom’s energy, or Bit Stream, and kidnaps the local princess. So first please take a second and commit to memory that your name is Pip, not Mario, and all the silly questions like, “Wait, haven’t I played this before?” and, “Why are princesses so easy to kidnap?” can be bypassed for the time being. With a storyline loosely in place, copyright lawyers on call, and a clear goal in sight, you set off into the hectic world of magical blocks.
It’s at this point where the game brings something other than a salad to the pot luck, so to speak. Where up until now, Adventures of Pip has lacked any type of ingenuity, they now have a chance to define what sets their game apart from products released damn near 30 years ago. Where some may let such an opportunity fly by, TicToc Games has apparently seized the moment (8-Mile, here I come) and thrown a couple generations’ worth of graphics into a blender. The result: a 2D platform with single pixel, 8-Bit, 16-Bit, and 32-Bit visuals, all mashed up into one colorful, low-def/hi-def acid trip.
To truly capitalize on the novelty of mixing a few graphical styles, the game allows you to utilize each Bit-count in the form of an evolution. Starting off as nothing more than a red block (your single pixel form), you can’t do much else other than bounce around and lend your weight to the cranium of bad guys. However, in propelling your square buttocks onto the face of some skeletal sod, you now absorb his pixels and morph into an 8-Bit version of yourself, complete with eyes, hands, and maybe clothes (which are also red…does someone need to call Nintendo’s legal team?). Instead of just bouncing around, you can now do all kinds of human things! You can run, slide off walls, and kick things, which is leaps and bounds more than what you managed as four 90-degree angles moments earlier. Kill another bad guy and you’re up to 32-Bits and a kick-ass sword! Though it sadly caps you here, the idea of improving the detailed resolution of your character is pretty sweet and somewhat reminiscent of eventually turning that Squirtle into Blastoise.
These murder-fueled transformations deliver not only an aesthetically pleasing change of pace, but also a myriad of benefits and disadvantages alike. Though as a block your only means of attack or defense was aerially braining someone, you had the ability to jump really high and fit into tight spaces. In your 8-Bit phase, you’re the master at scaling walls and running fast, but you’re too big to fit in small spaces and too small to move big stones (it’s that awkward teenager phase in Pip’s life). In your final phase you’re built like a tank, which sadly means you also move like one. Now instead of cheating and being able to indiscriminately switch from form to form, you have the choice to shed your extra pixels in a powerful explosion, destroying anything around you while also reducing your evolution by a level. The developers at TicToc Games had this in mind when designing the levels, it seems, as certain points force you to devolve while others demand that you evolve in order to pass. It’s a clever mechanism that adds an extra aspect of gameplay in an otherwise limited medium.
While the game does provide some interesting visuals and fun gameplay options, there still seems to be a bit lacking in terms of the “I need to change my pants I’m so excited” factor. Though there are supposedly boss fights, we of the press build were not fortunate enough to face off against any big baddies, and I would very much have liked to encounter enemies that put up more of a fight than simply walking at me somewhat menacingly. If the entirety of the Skeleton Queen’s evil army consists of monsters whose main attack is shuffling back and forth, then the game will quickly become yet another dull carbon copy of the platformers before it, and while we all enjoyed them back then, this is the future. Our expectations run a little higher these days (call me jaded).
Due to release in winter of next year, Adventures of Pip has the potential to revitalize the platformer adventure genre, breathing life into a game medium long abandoned by the present day marvels we all line up for now. With a handful of shortcomings and the daunting risk of looking too much like a clone looming over their heads, TicToc Games must do all they can to play to the game’s delightfully silly art mashups and dynamic gameplay in order to deliver a true gem worth the disk space. So far they’re on their way, but only time will tell if Pip evolves into a multi-Bit masterpiece or breaks apart in a flurry of cracked pixels.