Indie Games

Published on September 3rd, 2012 | by Derek Strickland, Contributor

They Bleed Pixels Review

Developer: Spooky Squid Games
Release Date: August 29th, 2012
Platform: PC via Steam
MSRP: $9.99 -20% for a limited time at $7.99

They Bleed Pixels, Spooky Squid’s latest Indie release, is a great addition to Steam’s Indie marketplace and any gamer’s library. The developers keep their traditional eerie atmosphere, melding a distinct and memorable visual style with traditional retro game mechanics to deliver an enjoyable gaming experience every time. They Bleed Pixels speaks a language that gamers who grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) are fluent in, delivering a nostalgic gameplay experience with its side-scrolling action and graphics. And, like most NES side-scrollers, this game is DAMN hard.

Even though you die, and die, and die some more, the game’s ghostly siren song lures you back in. Soon you remember why you loved NES games…until you start cursing at the screen in frustration. Then you fall in love with it all over again.

The cutscenes are nostalgic in all of their pixellated glory.

In the fall of 1923, a young girl arrives at the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies. A mysterious shadowy figure watches her arrive at the academy, choosing our unsuspecting heroine for an ancient dark ritual. The mysterious figure enacts the ritual by bloodletting upon a strange tome, waking the sleeping evil within. While walking the aisles in the academy library, our troubled heroine chances upon the book smeared with gore. Curious, she takes the ancient tome and peruses its contents.

Little does she know that the tome is actually an enchanted grimoire that infuses her with its dark power, allowing her to transform into a malevolent demigoddess in her dreams. While our heroine sleeps, players take control of her demonic alter-ego and slice-and-dice through monsters until the dawn of a new day. Upon waking, she is startled to see that the nightmares aren’t just dreams after all, and tries to rid herself of the tome…but it always comes back.

The story is told through cut-scenes that retain the game’s signature bit-style graphics, making it feel like an authentic NES title. After each stage, players are treated with a new scene that depicts the story’s progression. These scenes are accessible at any time in the main menu.

Don’t let her cuteness fool you, she’s very lethal!

They Bleed Pixels uses a simplistic two-button control scheme that’s further reminiscent of NES titles, and even has integrated USB controller support (playing with a controller is highly recommended, a wired X360 controller works great). While the game makes use of only two buttons there are still many combos to be learned and executed throughout gameplay. Many of these combinations can be learned in the Tutorial section.

Using a controller, players jump with ‘A’ and slice with ‘B’, and move using the left analog stick. The right analog stick pans the camera around, which is extremely useful when you’re not sure what’s lying below or when you’re trying to find hidden pages to the enchanted tome. The hidden pages are scattered throughout levels and provide bonuses like Achievement unlocks and point bonuses as well.

Utilizing the attack button in tandem with the directional stick is important and allows players to execute a variety of different attacks: Right and B perform the standard slash, Up and B performs an overhead slash–very useful for juggling enemies–and so on. With this players can mix, match and customize their personal playing style with what works for them.

This Indie makes use of classic platforming sensibilities (running and jumping, double jumps, ducking, etc.) that are essential to many side-scrolling platformers. Also, the jumps are pressure sensitive. The harder you press the button, the higher you go. This is a great mechanic besides the inevitable blistered thumbs, but hey, that’s an occupational hazard that we’re all probably used to by now.

The combo system is quite expansive, allowing players to perform many different deadly attacks–everything from super jump kicks to aerial slices–to slay monstrous foes. This also works against their natural instinct to button mash, as the game puts emphasis on finesse and timing–rather than button jamming.

To earn higher score bonuses players can make use of stage hazards like Super Meat Boy-stylespinning buzz saws or terrifyingly huge spikes to their advantage.

The ability to perform awesome combo streaks and fill the stage with gore is where this game really shines. Nothing is more enjoyable than slicing up a line of enemies and executing that perfect 30+ hit combo. Timing really is everything and players have to pay attention to stage hazards to achieve the best scores. The combos have different levels pertaining to their value, for example a “Necrotic” combo will net you a nice score bonus and fill up your checkpoint bar.

What’s even more awesome is that the score is measured not in points, but in pints, as in how much pixellated blood you’ve spilled throughout the level.

As players use our heroine to massacre evil minions, they will fill up the Checkpoint Bar at the top of the HUD. Making tactical use of Checkpoints can be the difference between life and death. Players can set Checkpoints anywhere on the level except on ice-covered floors or where enemies and stage hazards are near.

The checkpoint system is another unique aspect of They Bleed Pixels. Survival isn’t just about eliminating on-screen enemies, and if you want to stay alive in the dreamworld, you have to make strategic use of Checkpoints. With this mechanic players can form their own safety net throughout the tougher stages.

The best thing about these Checkpoints are that they not only give you an instant continue spot, but they completely refill your hearts–which is extremely useful, considering you only get three of them. Luckily there are infinite continues –because you’re going to die. And die. And die some more. The game’s only over when you say it is.

As mentioned before, gamers must make use of double jumps, wall jumps, and everything in between. Sometimes it’s best to do super jumps to avoid deadly obstacles like spikes, and sometimes it’s best to make small jumps to avoid spikes on the ceiling. Players must adapt their play style to the stage design or risk becoming just another puddle of pixellated gore.

Our poor heroine gets impaled on one of the many deadly stage hazards in the game.

Among the game’s unique features, one in particular stands out above all the rest: the impressive in-game visuals. This Indie mashup seamlessly blends beautiful pixel art with extraordinary Lovecraftian elements that imbue players with a sense of awe. The game transports players to an interdimensional nightmare world with eldritch landscapes, terrifying tentacles, bizarre moons, and of course the myriad of monsters that haunt our gothic heroine.

They Bleed Pixel’s soundtrack is also quite amazing. Composed by DJ Finish Him, each track has a distinct and significantly affects the overall tone of each level, providing beats and signature ominous old-school chip tunes that truly are enjoyable. Every song seems to fit the stages perfectly and really is an impressive.

There are also a multitude of extras to be unlocked throughout the game, including standard Steam Achievements. Other unlockables include Bonus Levels, a huge Art Gallery–which itself shows off an array of incredible fan-art that was created specifically for the game. The Bonus Levels include a hilarious rendition of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure called They Bleed Ponycorns, wherein all of the sprites and backgrounds match the style of fan-favorite Indie, and a similar rendition of Seraph from Golden Gear Games called They Bleed Star Dust.

They Bleed Ponycorns is one of two unlockable Bonus Levels.

The Final Truth:

With its mashup of platformer and beat-em-up game mechanics They Bleed Pixels provides a unique and profound gaming experience that can be enjoyed many times over. With an impressive array of in-game combo dynamics, an amazing visual style, and a perfect-fitting soundtrack Spooky Squid brings a memorable and praise-worthy title to the Steam marketplace. They Bleed Pixels has tons to offer, and while it may frustrate you to no end, you’ll find yourself coming back to it time and time again to slice up baddies and watch the blood fly.

[xrr label=”Rating: 8.5/10″ rating=8.5/10]

+ Amazing 8-Bit Graphics & Visual Style
+ Incredible Soundtrack
+ Combo System
+ Retro Side-Scrolling Action
+ Mix of Beat-em-up & Platformer Elements
+ Insanely Addictive
+ Unlockable Art Gallery & Bonus Levels
– Can be Punishingly Hard at Times
– Floaty Jumps Can be Difficult to Get Used to
– Sluggish Response Times

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For more information on They Bleed Pixels and the studio that created it, Spooky Squid Games, please visit the game’s official website.

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About the Author

I'm an aspiring games journalist who writes articles focused on everything from Indie Games to next-gen titles. [Twitter] @Mr_Deeke [E-Mail] derek.s(at)gamingtruth(dot)com

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