A blocky good time
The influx of indie platformers has radically changed my experiences at gaming expos in recent years. Frequently, particularly at places like GDC and PAX, I?ll spot a 2D-styled side-scroller that looks like an excellent concept as I?m watching the action unfold onscreen. Then I take the controller, and that?s when intrigue turns to resignation?it may look cool in motion, but the developers can?t even get the jumping right in their candy-coated retro world.
When I got my hands on Adventures of Pip, the the journey of a single pixel evolving into 8- and 16-bit incarnations, though, things were different. Even though the game was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign when I saw it at last year?s PAX Prime, this was clearly no mere concept?Pip already controlled better than any other game I saw during those handful of days up in Seattle. I could easily leap on enemies and bounce off walls, and the game?s transformation mechanic was intuitive even in demo form.
It turned out that the folks at Tic Toc Games are no fly-by-night indie developer, either. They?re composed of several WayForward veterans (the same pedigree that birthed the beloved Shovel Knight last year) that count the likes of Contra 4, Double Dragon NEON, and the Shantae series to their name, among many others. Once they told me their backgrounds, all became clear. These weren?t recent game-design grads trying to get noticed. These were battle-tested industry veterans who knew exactly what they were doing, and it stood out immediately.
The clever design and tight platforming remain the major strengths of Adventures of Pip in the final version, and it?s clear that?s where the small team focused their energy. It?s not packed with bonuses or hidden features?I get the feeling Tic Toc wanted to get this game done, even if it wasn?t packed with Kickstarter stretch goals, to prove their bona fides to secure funding for future projects?but what?s there is solid and well worth a playthrough for any platforming fan.
The titular Pip is a single pixel who must rescue the apparently helpless Pixel Kingdom after the nefarious Queen DeRezzia?equal parts ruthless and sassy?steals all of its high-res assets for herself. Single pixels like Pip live in squalor (he seemingly makes his home at the bottom of a well at best, in a dungeon at worst) and are second- and third-class citizens compared to their well-to-do high-res neighbors. Still, Pip deems this world worth saving thanks to some misguided sense of altruism and sets off to rescue Princess Adeline, who has the ability to harness the power of the Bitstream that might rebuild the Pixel Kingdom and undo the ravages of DeRezzia.
As his first form?a block that wouldn?t be out of place on the Atari 2600?Pip can only jump on enemies, though his lightweight state means he can float through the air (especially with a gust of wind underneath). There?s not much more to him than that, and it?s interesting to see such a minimalist hero try to take on the obstacles in front of him.
The first transformation, an 8-bit, NES-style boy, is really the most versatile form in the game and the one I found myself going back to most often. Here, Pip can kick, punch, chop with an impressively funky flow. It?s this form?s impressive speed and tight jumping ability, however?he?s a wall-jumper with the aplomb of Ninja Gaiden?s Ryu Hayabusa?that made it the most fun to control.
The last transformation, a fully formed, sword-wielding 16-bit action hero, may pack the most punch, but that doesn?t necessarily mean it?s the most powerful. Sure, he can send enemies flying with a single swing of his blade, but he runs and jumps like he?s got lead in his boots, and I really only resorted to him when I needed to break through walls or take out a group of foes. Perhaps it?s fitting, though, given the game?s theme that it doesn?t take a ton of pixels to become a hero?the Pixel Kingdom?s most high-res residents, after all, are often shown to be among its most useless.
One of the most interesting elements of Adventures of Pip is how Tic Toc implements the transformation process into the level design. Pip hops on glowing blue enemies connected to the Bitstream that impart the ability to transform, and I got so used to these foes seamlessly integrating into level navigation?you?ll often need to transform into a higher-res Pip and bounce off a wall, for example?that I came to forget that they could actually hurt Pip.
The enjoyment is augmented by tricky-but-manageable puzzles and weirdly goofy dialogue and characters, along with the challenge to rescue three townspeople per level?some of whom can provide services for Pip back in the city.
While the level design is generally creative and shows Tic Toc?s experience on that front, perhaps the biggest problem is the checkpoint system. It?s not necessarily that they feel unfair, but that they feel unnecessarily spaced apart. It can be annoying to make your way through unchallenging sequences just to make it to the tough parts, which just ends up feeling like busywork when you have to make the long trek back. At least Pip takes a page from the Rayman playbook and doesn?t include a finite number of lives, which keeps the action constantly moving.
Another problem is that power-ups back in town simply cost too much to be of much use during an initial playthrough?as part of Tic Toc?s deal with Nintendo to bring the game to the Wii U, they must have agreed to let Tom Nook set the prices. Adding an ability to increase the amount of pixels (the in-game currency) earned per enemy and treasure chest does help somewhat, but I unlocked most of Pip?s abilities only after I?d bested Queen DeRezzia. I realize that the developers probably didn?t want players blasting through the game with a full suite of powers, but a more balanced selection and fairer pricing would?ve been welcome.
Thankfully, gameplay isn?t the only area where Adventures of Pip shines?it?s also got one of the top composers in gaming at its disposal. In my 2014 personal Game of the Year writeup, I presented Shovel Knight with the Jake Kaufman Makes Everything 30% More Awesome Award, and that spirit holds true here. His work on Pip is a little more subdued and refined?more along the lines of Super NES or PS1 tech than the peppy NES?but it?s still excellent. What?s great about Kaufman is that he doesn?t feel like he?s impersonating a retro game composer. His work always feels like it could stand right alongside the best heard 20-plus years ago, and Adventure of Pip is no exception.
Really, one of the main things that seems to hold Adventures of Pip back is its $66,000 Kickstarter haul?a drop in the bucket compared to Koji Igarashi?s embarrassment of Bloodstained riches, for example. It comes off like Tic Toc procured the funds to finish the game but little else (not that it?s their fault), and it feels like they extended the amount of stages per its five worlds (the game counts 36 levels in total) instead of building a couple of extra areas that would?ve helped diversify the game.
That?s the unfortunate thing about Kickstarter: Proven names get the benefit of the doubt. Others, even immensely talented industry veterans, have to scratch and claw to even get noticed. With Adventures of Pip, however, Tic Toc Games has shown that they deserve your attention?and hopefully, they won?t even have to go the Kickstarter route to craft Pip?s next quest.
|Developer: Tic Toc Games ? Publisher: Tic Toc Games ? ESRB: E10+ ? Release Date: 06.04.2015|
A retro platformer that sets itself apart with the protagonist?s transformation from a single pixel into 8- and 16-bit incarnations. Tic Toc Games? impressive pedigree at WayForward is on full display in Adventures of Pip?one of the only problems is that it?s not quite as feature-rich as you?d like.
|The Good||Expertly crafted platforming from the same pedigree that brought us Shovel Knight.|
|The Bad||Frustrating checkpoint system; not a lot of extra frills.|
|The Ugly||The carnage unleashed by Queen DeRezzia in the opening minutes. Even The Witcher 3 was lighter on death and destruction in its beginning!|
|Adventures of Pip is available on Wii U and PC, with Xbox One and PS4 versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for Wii U. Review code was provided by Tic Toc Games for the benefit of this review.|