Review: Pixel Ripped 1989
A nostalgic trip that reminds of the joys and frustration of 80s gaming.
If there’s been one title VRFocus has been looking forward to seeing as a finished product it’s been Pixel Ripped 1989. Originally started in 2014 there’s been moments over the years where it’s looked doubtful the videogame would ever see the light of day, as indie developer Ana Ribeiro released sporadic updates. Thankfully, with the help of Brazilian virtual reality (VR) studio ARVORE Pixel Ripped 1989 has finally become a fully finished product, and for VR fans into their retro gaming it measures up very well indeed.
This year’s release of Ready Player One helped to bring VR to the forefront of public consciousness thanks not only to Spielberg himself directing but also the amount of nods to past videogames and films. If you enjoyed the retro nostalgia of the film – or the book which was better – then Pixel Ripped 1989 should be right up your street.
Right from the start it’s a no holds barred homage to the past, all wrapped up in a lovely VR cocoon that offers some surprising, and unique ideas that set Pixel Ripped 1989 apart from many titles released recently. This is certainly a ‘game within a game’, where the premise is to save the ‘real world’ from an enemy in the digital realm.
You play a videogame obsessed kid called Nicola. With her trusty Gear Kid handheld console she needs to play through several levels to defeat an evil goblin called the Cyblin Lord who has managed to figure out how to cause destruction outside of its regular videogame. This essentially means you spend a lot of time staring at the consoles’ screen playing a 2D adventure. While this would have worked just by itself in the long run the novelty factor would’ve worn off eventually simply staring at a 2D platformer for several hours. Thankfully this isn’t the case as the development team have crafted much more into the experience.
Pixel Ripped 1989 is essentially split into four main levels, with each on taking place in a slightly different location for Nicola. The one that’s been showcased the most – VRFocus did a gameplay video of the first chapter if you want to have a look – is the classroom that Nicola is being taught in. It gives an easy introduction to one of the main gameplay aspects of Pixel Ripped 1989, keeping an eye on what’s going on around you. Much like traditional videogames of old you have three lives to lose before its game over. These aren’t lost by dying in the 2D realm, instead if you don’t keep an eye on the grumpy teacher and distract her every so often with a spit ball to various objects around the room she’ll come up to your desk, scream at you, and then that’s a life lost.
This theme of bringing the 2D videogame into the real world continues throughout Pixel Ripped 1989 to even more outlandish effect. There will be moments where you have to control your character on a separate TV screen, or use the Gear Kid’s screen as an aiming reticule to shoot birds/demons out the sky before they fly off with your classmates.
But don’t be fooled into thinking Pixel Ripped 1989 is a walk in the park, which you’ll whizz through in no time. You could possibly complete the entire title in around two hours with enough practice, however it’s likely to take you a least double that the first time around. Remember how difficult some late 80s, and 90s platformers were, sometimes requiring intense repetition to get right, well Pixel Ripped 1989 has that nice little aspect the further you get through it. This can be both seen as good and bad as there were certain points where the Oculus Touch controllers almost got thrown across the room.
Controls for this portion of the experience are straightforward jump and shoot/run. As you make your way through the levels you need to pick up coins which have a twofold effect. They change the 2D character design from a couple of squares to a fully formed sprite reminiscent of Mega Drive (Genesis) and SNES era titles. This in turn allows you to shoot faster. Lose the pixels you’ve acquired and that digital sprite starts to regress back to its blocky former self.
As mentioned there are plenty of nods to the 80s era – there’s even an Alex the Kid style section – yet Pixel Ripped 1989 doesn’t purely play on that nostalgic element. The whole design is well executed, from your digital thumb pressing the A/B buttons to the spatial sound where you can hear the other school kids nattering away around you.
Due to the design of the gameplay Pixel Ripped 1989 is a purely seated experience making it completely comfortable for the majority of players. This does limit most of the gameplay to a 180-degree view although there are moments that require a quick spin round.
Pixel Ripped 1989 is very much one of those quirky VR experiences some will love while others won’t see the point of it. VRFocus is very much in the former camp when it comes to this. Pixel Ripped 1989 offers a unique gameplay experience that’s hard to put down, combining the addictive elements of classic platformers with the immersive stylings of VR.