They Bleed Pixels is an art game. I’m serious here. It’s art. Bloody, savage art constructed out of faces and stolen scalps but art, nonetheless. Okay, that might be stretching things but it’s hard to deny that Spooky Squid’s upcoming XBLIG platformer is a thing of rare beauty.
They got so many things right with this one. The moody palette, the slick animations, the deliciously low-rez visuals, the fluid controls, the brutality, the pacing – they all work together magnificently. I especially approve of the way the game lets you pinion enemies to spiked ceilings, spiked walls, spiked floors and well, you get the picture. Nonetheless, that’s not what impressed me most. No. It’s the checkpoint system. They delivered that one perfectly.
What am I talking about? To recap for those who just got here, They Bleed Pixels is a ‘fast-paced, gothic lo-fi platformer’ with an ingenious approach to checkpoints. Here, the onus is on the player – you’re the one who determines when and where a checkpoint will manifest itself. There is a bar on the top left corner of the screen that fills up whenever you execute a particularly awe-inspiring murder spree or when you retrieve a power-up. Once that bar is filled up, a purple glow will envelop your character. When that happens, you’ll be able to create a checkpoint wherever you want. All that you’ll need to do then is stand in place for a few moments and bam, checkpoint!
But what’s not what makes it so brilliant. The real genius lies in the fact that this approach to check points makes it hard not to eventually blossom into a digital kung fu master. After all, it’s not just a question of points or upgrades anymore. When it’s your insurance against repeating brain-breaking segments of a level that is on the line, button-mashing can appear very unappealing.
To steal a quote from one of the developers, They Bleed Pixels is tough but fair. Checkpoints will almost always appear whenever you need them most. Combat is as simple as determining how long you want to hold the B button down and whether you’re going to use a directional button in conjunction with it. The learning curve is practically negligible. But that does not mean the game is easy. You will still die and you will die often. Though you will never find yourself painted into an impossible corner, the game is still as sadistic as they come. It’s a knife’s edge that They Bleed Pixels is balanced on but if games were people, Spooky Squid’s upcoming production would definitely make it as a world-class acrobat.