“Was it not fate (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breath the incense of those slumbering roses?” E. A. Poe
Unlike a few of my peers back in the 90’s, I personally never found myself attached to popular platform games of the day. It might have done with the fact I never had a SNES/Megadrive back in the day too.
However, I did have a fondness for the whimsical Kirby on Nintendo’s Gameboy. That did capture my attention due to it’s cute fluffy settings and characters.
What enjoyment you got out of the game largely depended on certain criteria. How precise is the jumping? How well are enemies hurt boxes defined? Is it intuitive to navigate each level? How difficult are the bosses?
And more often than not, they had a life system. Get good enough to stay alive and you might make it to the following level. Lose all your lives there and return to the main menu. With consoles becoming as powerful as their arcade machine counterparts, this system of limited continues eventually phased out in more recent titles.
Naturally when the technology to make 3D environments came to home consoles and computers, the two dimensional platformer became a thing of yesteryear. Occasionally their demise reformed into three dimensional sequels, which came to be regarded with open arms or loud disdain.
Nowadays there seems to be a resurgence of two dimensional platformers. New technology allows for more detailed settings, while tuned up controls permits you to maneuver left and right while jumping. Role-playing game elements have even entered the foray, such as in Trine. Health meters mean that a single touch doesn’t necessarily mean game over.
With this resurgence of the traditional platformer, I tried out ‘They Bleed Pixels’, which is developed and published by Spooky Squid Games.
Proclaiming to have a Lovecraftian horror setting, the game certainly oozes gothic atmosphere from the get-go. A silent slideshow of animations present us with a girl who is sent to the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies. Within mere hours of arriving, she finds a cursed book within the library that transforms her into the stuff of nightmares. Her hands morph into two long, bloodied claws and suddenly she’s taken to a surreal dream world filled with all sorts of vicious denizens.
These include lumbering golems that take pleasure in poking your eyes out, to tiny stickmen with huge swords that wield them with scary finesse. And these enemies do not hold back, as I soon discovered with the Ring inspired ghost floating towards me in an effort to shred my guts out with her claws.
At the end of each level, she finds herself back in her own bed and vows to destroy the evil book, taking on new approaches to dispose of it. Yet somehow it’ll return to her undamaged, each night repeating the same eerie transformation sequence as you embark on another chapter.
Playing the game
They Bleed Pixels will take you through a tutorial level to explain various moves and combos used throughout the game, and by golly you’ll need them. This game chastises button mashing in favour of challenging combat and careful exploration. You’ll find out soon enough how tough the enemies are too, as most of them won’t go down with just a simple stab. As a matter of fact, the game will teach you to use moves that let you utilise the environment’s plethora of deadly spikes and circular saws as a gory method of dispatching your foes. Using a simple kick, you can launch enemies into spikes or simply straight up into the air, allowing the girl to follow suite and land multiple hits before they hit the ground in a bloody heap. Sometimes you can even trick bomb-wielding enemies to trigger their explosives, subsequently killing their allies. Hugely satisfying!
Upon killing enemies, your bar is filled up with points (you receive extra if you obtain higher combos) These points allow you to make a checkpoint anywhere within the level, if it’s clear of enemies. It’s a very unique method of saving, as it does away with fixed locations where you autosave. Upon creating the checkpoint, you’ll have your health restored and can infinitely respawn from here. Unfortunately, you’ve only got three heart containers, allowing for two hits before the third strike kills you. It can make for infuriating moments to have your last dot of health vanish because you misjudged a key jump.
A lot of the time you’ll end up dying because of the treacherous environment too. Icy floors are a great way to slip accidentally into enemies or a wall of spikes. Sometimes you’ll be leaping between small safe areas while avoiding enemies, spikes and dreaded pitfalls into more spikes.
Each area contains hidden pages from the book, located around more dangerous areas that require a lot of patience to navigate. Discovering little bonuses and achievements like this allow you to unlock a slew of extra content on the main menu. From bonus levels to videos and a well stocked art gallery, there’s plenty to reward you for playing the game.
As I said, I’m not hugely into platformers, but for once this had made me want to see the finale. The difficulty of the level exploration and the enemies is challenging, but not impossible. I hate to use this cliché comparison but I liken it to Dark Souls; it’s tough but always fair.
It’s simple to see how to navigate the levels and adapt to each enemy assault with some experience. Even progression later in the game allows you to unlock further tutorials to expand your knowledge on possible moves.
Graphically the game is spot on with its simple appearance. The music hits all the right notes too. Sombre tones set the opening story, while more upbeat tracks accompany you throughout the levels.
The game offers enough descriptive story without delaying you much from continuing with the game. Each monster has a little biography in the extras part of the menu, including both image and a detailed description.
Overall, the game feels well put together. It feels solid and consistent throughout and it’s aesthetic quality shines well too. It mixes the cute, retro and creepy very well together.
However the overall difficulty and combo focused combat can put off newcomers to the genre. Once mastered, you’ll be going up against all manner of things, hoping to hit enough points to make the checkpoint.
4 out of 5