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Pixel Ripped 1978

Pixel Ripped 1978

Written by Eric Hauter on 6/14/2023 for PSVR2  
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Oh, Atari. You make me swear like no other game publisher. Your games are so ridiculously tough, they counteract my blood pressure medication to the point where I nearly stroke out, red-faced with a controller in my hands. In a good way. 

Oh, ARVORE. You make me swear like no other game developer. Your games are so ridiculously tough, they make me (gently/metaphorically) hurl my PS VR2 controllers across the room (onto an overstuffed sofa) in fits of blind rage, howling things like "Whyyyy?" and "Noooooo!". In a good way.

Oh, Pixel Ripped 1978, you incredible, wild, twisting contraption of a game. I can't recall a time that I've had such a good time being so angry at a video game. I started by sending my children out of the room while I played, even though the game was totally appropriate for them to watch. It was me that was being inappropriate. By the time I finished Pixel Ripped 1978, I was sending them out of the house. It's not safe for them to be near me while I'm whipping my arms around and yelling "What the hell, dragons? GO AWAY!" in my living room. Thank goodness no one has a recording of me playing this game. It would be downright humiliating.

Yes, you can throw things at her. No, it isn't as satisfying as you want it to be.

To be clear, Pixel Ripped isn't that hard. It is based on old school games, so there is an element of "figure this out yourself", but the challenges presented by the game are surmountable by players with modest arcade abilities. And unlike the games to which it pays homage, Pixel Ripped lets you try again as many times as you need; there is no three-life limitation in place, thank goodness. The real issue that makes Pixel Ripped such a wild ride is that Pixel Ripped places mind-bending challenges in front of the player - asking you to do stuff that you have never had to do before in a video game - and then it proceeds to pile on distractions and irritants to pull your focus away from the already tough challenge you are trying to face. It actually riles you up on purpose.

For example, during one boss battle in the game, players are playing a simple game of Breakout on an old tube television. No problem. But then the game magically flies out of the television and takes up most of the room you are occupying. Instead of using the controls on your controller to move your paddle back and forth on the screen, you use the entire controller, playing Breakout with motion controls; moving your controller back and forth in front of you will slide the paddle. Fine. No problem. But then there is a boss to contend with. So, while managing Breakout with your left hand, you have to grab paper wads with your right hand and try to throw them at the boss. It's a lot like patting your head and rubbing your stomach; it isn't hard, and you understand what the game wants you to do, but you have to break your brain to actually do it.

Stuff like this happens a lot. You are trying to platform, but dragons keep swooping around the room and shooting you, so you have to let go of your controller and physically whack the dragons into the wall. Bugs fly out of the Centipede-like game you are playing, and if you don't swat them, they fly back into the game and kill your on-screen character. And then there are your co-workers, who irritatingly demand that you stop what you are doing and attend to their various needs. And the phone won't stop ringing. It's...a lot. I would love to watch people play this game, because I'm fairly certain that like 90% of them would devolve mentally the way that I do, eventually rocking in place with an Atari joystick in their hands, chanting "Shut-up-shut-up-shut-up" at all the stuff buzzing around them.

So yeah, Pixel Ripped can be overwhelming, but it is also overwhelmingly cool. Once you catch onto the game's vibe and understand that it is actively trying to jangle your nerves, things tend to smooth out a bit. It does take a while to get hip to the rhythm of the game, and newcomers to the franchise might find themselves bewildered by the proceedings. There is a definite period of confusion while players acclimate to what is happening; I was confused for a bit, and I've played the other two games in the franchise.

Players inhabit the body of Bug, an early game developer that works in the Atari office in the late 70s. Bug is trying to develop her own game about Dot, a Metroid-like superhero who shoots energy balls from her arm cannon. But Bug's co-workers are constantly bothering her to debug their games, which are all recognizable takes on early Atari titles (most of which could not possibly run on the Atari 2600 depicted in the game, btw, but I'm splitting hairs). To add to the pressure and confusion, an evil wizard has infected all of the games, and is threatening to take them over and remold them in his evil image. 

The primary flow of the game has Bug playing games on her office television until she gets stuck. Then she physically warps into a 3D pixel-art representation of the game she is playing, where she battles baddies and clears obstacles. Then, once she has created a path forward, she warps back to her office and moves forward with the game she is playing on her TV. So there's this back and forth puzzle-solving dynamic that plays out, which the game doesn't do a great job of explaining. Then, occasionally, Bug has to do battle with the wizard guy, which leads to some showstopping moments with unique mechanics.

The real hook of the Pixel Ripped series is the way that the games emerge from the television on which you are playing and inhabit the 3D space around the player. It's a pretty great trick, and it allows the developers to put a unique spin on some classic game mechanics. Old school platforming is okay on an old TV, but it's flipping spectacular when it is the size of the wall in front of you. 

Does it look easy? It's NOT EASY. But it is super fun, and visually stunning in VR.

That said, this iteration - the third in the series - feels a little rough around the edges. The game seems to have the expectation that players are familiar with the usual flow of the franchise, which took a little while for me to slip back into. There were a few occasions where I got stuck to the point where I had to step away for a while. There are also some tracking issues on PS VR2 when Bug is sitting at her desk - I found that the tracking would frequently get all wonky, causing me to lose focus on what I was looking at. It was similar to the way PS VR2 behaves in a room that is too dim for it's cameras to track, but it only seemed to happen when I was sitting there trying to play on Bug's TV. Disconcerting.

The generational upgrade that has taken place since the last Pixel Ripped installment really rachets things up a notch though. The additional graphical fidelity offered by the PS VR2 makes for some very impressive visuals. Pixel Ripped is colorful and lively, and some of the environments look amazing. The moments where the games zip forward and blow out into offices and living rooms are spectacular, and there are a lot of interesting visual touches that make the real-world settings feel tactile and realistic. In one scene, I became fascinated with the way the curtains behind me were reflected in the television on which I was playing, shifting around as I moved my head. Fancy stuff, ARVORE. 

Pixel Ripped 1978 is well worth a look, especially for fans of old school game mechanics (or those that want to torture the youth with a real challenge). But go in with the understanding that Atari games are known for their blistering difficulty, and while Pixel Ripped takes it easy on players, an "easy" Atari game can still be tough as hell. A visual treat, yes, and a love letter to old school gaming. But be sure to put in your mouth guard first, because you will surely be gritting your teeth. In a good way.

Pixel Ripped 1978 is another fun entry into one of the most unique series in video games, and is recommended to fans with a few minor caveats. Get ready for some spectacular visuals and effects, but also prepare yourself for some old school difficulty and a side helping of minor technical issues. Fans of the franchise shouldn't hesitate to grab this new installment, but new players should be ready for a bit of a "getting to know you" learning curve. Still, the inspired combination of Atari and ARVORE succeeds at providing gamers with a unique and delightful time-machine view into gaming history. 

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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