Pixel Session Volume 1

Warning: The link in this article leads to a game page that could be a concern to those that are photosensitive; in fact, if you have epilepsy, the game won’t be accommodating of that. 😦 

Usually, my review-ish articles tend to be on one game. However, I’ve spent the last two weeks looking at a whole bunch of games each article for the sake of a game jam – so why stop now? Today, I’m taking a look at not one game, but a whole collection of them. So, let’s talk about Pixel Session Volume 1!

Pixel Session Vol. 1 is a collection of five small games developed in PICO-8 by Trasevol_Dog. Available for $2, the collection delivers small arcade-like games full of trippy colors and good times, all controllable with the mere arrow keys, Z, and X.

Upon downloading and extracting the collection’s folder, you’ll see that only one game, Descent, is available, while the others are locked into their own compressed files. No problem, just gotta extract those too, right? Well, it’s not that simple. These files are actually password protected, with the password to one game being given by achieving a B rank on the preceding game. I’ve played a bunch of score-based arcade games on this blog before, but this is the first one that I’ve run into with actual stakes, which is real neat. Of course, if you can’t meet the ranking requirements, the creator was kind enough to put “cheat codes” into the folder that’ll let you unlock those games.

Descent

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I’m looking at these in order, so I’m going to start off with Descent. You play as a little pixel person on top of a continually rising tower of “Z” and “X” blocks, threatening to smash you against the ceiling. You press the button corresponding to the block immediately below you to break it and buy yourself more time, seems simple.

At the same time though, a bunch of projectiles will start bouncing from the sides of the screens, so you’ll also have to run and jump all over the place. It’s a juggling game, trying to dodge all this while trying to focus on the rising blocks (which will also hurt you if you press the wrong button in panic). The blocks disappearing will also mess with the trajectories of the projectiles, so you’ll need to pay close attention, or you’ll end up jumping into one. Descent is real easy to grasp, though the game gets kinda disorienting with the colors and screenshaking, which made it harder to focus on the projectiles. In fact, expect a lot of disorientation from these games, as they’ll be something to get used to.

My Score: 702

Lightner

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In Lightner, you play as a fellow exuding a rainbow radiance, fighting against squids (I guess) eating things up with an aura of darkness that lunge toward you when you get too close. To combat them, you throw out a disc by holding Z, a chain of lightning connecting you to it. The disc collides with an enemy and they get purified, becoming non-hostile NPCs; however, anything that collides with the lightning chain will also get purified. While the disc moves independently as long as you’re holding Z, you can adjust the position and length of the chain while moving around, so you’ll often resort to bringing the chain straight into enemies instead of depending on the disc alone. Let me tell ya, taking out a whole bunch of squids with a sweep of the chain is satisfying.

A new wave of hostile squids spawn in after the last is cleared. They will sometimes lunge at the non-hostile squids, removing them from play. This is a concern because you get a point bonus for each individual non-hostile squid on screen when a wave is cleared, the bonus increasing with each wave. This sort of creates a hidden timer, as you’ll need to get rid of the enemies before they get rid of your point bonuses.

Lightner actually ended up being the game I was best at out of all of these, even though I personally prefer a later game. The squids telegraph where they spawn, so you can easily get in place to not only avoid them, but to set up nice electric traps to get a bunch of them in one fell swoop.

My Score: 1128

B1gBr0th3r

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You are in constant free fall as a big eye watches you, dark beams raining down from the sky as you grab words approved by the eye. You come in contact with a word and you disengage, the word disappearing. You go for the green words and after collecting a certain number of them, you advance a level, the eye judging you in a trippy transition sequence before you get kicked onward, where an additional death beam starts terrorizing you. Of course, don’t have to wait to be terrorized by multiple beams, as touching a disapproved red word causes a whole bunch to come down in retaliation.

Visually, this game was the most interesting. The shifting visuals of the background emphasizes your free fall, the shifting of the eye connoting a powerful malevolence as the death rays rain down. There’s this oppressive feeling in the game, which is befitting of the game’s title/theme, especially with how the watchful eye is presented in the level transitions.

Unfortunately for me, I had to resort to looking at the next game’s code in the cheat code file. The game is interesting, but I just couldn’t earn the winning score properly. I feel that by the fourth level, the beams were kinda overwhelming. There were too many places where they were coming down and I couldn’t properly time how to weave through them. I sort of found this game to be frustrating to the point of not being very fun. I will maintain however that the game really knocks it when it comes to presentation.

My Score: 44 (C)

Charging Panic

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Charging Panic is a game where you have to charge up batteries. There are just too many batteries to handle, however, so you have the nifty ability of creating a clone of yourself. For each charged battery, you can create an additional clone, capping at 16. Each battery has a set of buttons in front of it that must be pressed down to charge it up; if there’s at least one person holding a button down, it won’t charge, but the battery doesn’t drain either. If three batteries drain completely, it’s game over.

Of course, there’s a catch in that death balls start flying in from the sides of the screen and while you are invincible, your clones very much aren’t. You can create an explosion around yourself to keep these balls from disrupting the charging progress, but this in itself can also disrupt things, as any clone near you when you pop off also dies. This problem is a double-edged sword however, as clones will never move off a button until its battery is fully charged and you may want to find yourself in situations where you want to move a clone elsewhere. As the game progresses, batteries requiring more buttons to be held down also start popping up. It eventually gets to the point that 16 clones will not enough to charge all batteries onscreen by themselves.

This game ends up being a sort of strategy game, the late game forcing you to think of where to allocate resources and what should be prioritized. Say that one of those death balls clears through a pack of clones charging a battery. Would you respawn a full squad of them to get back to charging it? Maybe put just one there so you can have the rest help charge up a battery that needs more members?

An issue that I kind of had with the game is the priorities of your clones. If there are a bunch of batteries near each other, a spawned clone will just head toward the one closest to it – even if a nearby battery is on the verge of breaking down. Sometimes spawned clones preferred to follow me instead of holding down a button, which is sweet and all but damn. Overall though, this game’s pretty solid and once I started getting a hang of clone allocation, I got really into it. In fact, I actually consider Charging Panic to be my favorite out of the bunch. There’s just this frantic mood to the game that helped make it more engaging than the others, at least to me.

My Score: 109

Chroma Cannon

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Ending off the collection is Chroma Cannon. You control a cannon in the center of a spiraling void, rotating around to shoot at colored worms. You have to be the same color as the worms to destroy them, so you have to switch your color regularly. Every 1000 points, the color palette switches and the worms seem to get more aggressive.

…and that’s really all there is to it. I honestly consider it to be the most straightforward game. The color changing mechanic is easy enough to manage, so the game just sort of boils down to just shooting enemies. I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this and I had more fun with this than the more interesting B1gBr0th3r, but it feels weird to end off the collection with this game, especially after the frantic and demanding Charging Panic. It’s good, but anti-climactic, if that makes sense.

My Score: 12127

Closing

Trasevol_Dog’s collection shows off nice variety and it’s a good showcase of their skill and what you can do with the PICO-8 engine. The visuals throughout these games were also real pretty, though they are flawed in that they make the games inaccessible to some people.

Despite a few gripes, I think Pixel Session Vol. 1 is fantastic overall, especially at its asking price. And while we’re on the subject of throwing money to the developer, I also suggest checking out their Patreon! They’re a full-time indie dev and I’m sure that they’ll appreciate any help and support that’s thrown their way!

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