It’s astonishing to think that videogames have existed for over 40 years. And that in their infancy they were no more than a few lines on a screen. One of the most iconic companies to emerge from those early years was Atari, dominating the landscape in the ’70s and ’80s. Atari might not be the company that it once was, but ARVORE’s latest Pixel Ripped instalment harks back to those simpler times. The third game in the franchise, Pixel Ripped 1978 is a title full of nostalgia, and interesting ideas, yet doesn’t quite have the same magic as its predecessors.
The Pixel Ripped series has always been about embracing particular videogame decades. This time around, that’s not quite the case. It might say Pixel Ripped 1978 in the title, but with a time travel narrative, you swap between the early ’70s and ’80s. Once again, series protagonist Dot returns to save her home from the evil Cyblin lord. This villainous green goblin is intent on rewriting videogame history, removing Dot in the process. Aiding Dot is Bug, a young programmer who’s very adept at finding *ahem* ‘bugs’.
Pixel ripping time!
Each Pixel Ripped game has wonderfully employed the idea of a game within a game dynamic. In certain sections, you play as Dot, inside a game blasting enemies with your arm cannon whilst running around looking for secrets. The rest of the time you’re in the role of Bug, controlling Dot in games on her Atari 2600 console. So far so simple. However, things get a little more complicated when you then start jumping between these various characters, figuring out puzzles that can only be unlocked in both 2D and 3D game worlds.
Pixel Ripped 1978 shines when it fully utilises this mechanic, having to teleport out of Dot and into Bug to continue the game with an entirely different control system. As Dot, you’re in a fairly regular VR shooter, exploring a virtual world with smooth locomotion. Using your right arm to shoot opponents whilst the left houses various abilities to interact with particular objects. You even have melee weapons over each shoulder to attack foes and break stuff.
As Bug, you’re always stationary, either sitting at her office desk or at home in front of the TV. From this fixed position you can interact with nearby objects, grabbing a slice of pizza to eat or finding cool Atari items. Small inclusions but they all add to that level of immersion. Primarily, you’re always holding Bug’s Atari controller, which both of your hands snap to. This is where the retro gaming section comes alive, navigating Dot through a multitude of platforming levels.
Not all pixels are equal
Playing directly as Dot and as Bug, the latter certainly outshines the former. Pixel Ripped games have never been particularly hard but Dot’s sections in Pixel Ripped 1978 do seem to be overly easy. Enemies aren’t that difficult to dispatch with your arm cannon – which unfortunately isn’t upgradable or modifiable in any way, such a shame. Considering the rest of the game, the gameplay here isn’t very inspiring, providing fairly dull, action-oriented sections. Also worth noting is the fact that although Pixel Ripped 1978 does employ multiple comfort options like teleportation, this is more of a hindrance. The way the enemies spawn and attack makes smooth locomotion the necessary default.
Bug’s sections, on the other hand, are a delight. Virtual game controller in hand, the platforming levels are that little bit trickier and more rewarding – just like retro platformers were. As the series then likes to do, there are moments where characters will jump out of the screen for you to deal with in “real life”. The same goes for the Cyblin boss battles, multistage affairs that begin on screen before evolving into the 3D realm.
One of the highlights had to be Bug’s office party. During this sequence, you’re inundated with colleagues asking you questions and for favours, the phone seems to be constantly ringing – easter egg: listen to who’s talking – all whilst trying to navigate Dot through the next section. Pure multitasking – like trying to part your head and rub your belly – this is where you can get lost in the joyous experience that is Pixel Ripped.
Whilst all of this is going on there are, of course, lots of nods to the industry’s history and Atari in particular. Golden Atari carts are hidden around the levels as well as new melee weapons to find.
Pixel Ripped 1978 Review Summary
Pixel Ripped 1978 leans heavily on nostalgia and that’s no bad thing – it is a hallmark of the entire franchise. It certainly feels like ARVORE is refining its process for Pixel Ripped, the graphics suitably reflect the different eras so that if you’re old enough it may unlock the odd fun memory. Gameplay is fun and enjoyable yet still quite easy, making for a runtime of around 5 hours. There are certainly highs and lows between the two characters you embody, yet overall, Pixel Ripped 1978 is a worthy addition to the series, just not its highlight.