Can't Strafe Right

Published on October 6th, 2011 | by Derek Strickland, Contributor

Dead Pixels Xbox Indie Review


Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Indie Games)
Price: 80 MSP ($1)
Developer: Can’t Strafe Right (CSR) Studios

Dead Pixels is one of the most enjoyable Xbox Indies you can find on the marketplace for only one dollar. Its level of action-packed gameplay far exceeds its meager asking price, featuring elements from multiple genres and even couch co-op for local play. This particular zombie shooter is one of the best on the marketplace and is a must-own for fans of Grindhouse-styled old-school side-scrolling zombie shooters.

Just about everyone who’s watched a zombie movie knows the age-old story: some strange chemical somehow gets spilled into a graveyard and brings the undead back to life as shambling flesh-eating horrors. Sound familiar? Well it should, because Dead Pixels utilizes this stereotypical plot device in a nod to classic zombie flicks like Return of the Living Dead.

The zombie apocalypse takes place in New Hexington, New York, where most of the city itself has fallen victim to the undead brain-eaters. It’s up to you as a survivor to do whatever is required to reach salvation…but between you and safety lies over twenty streets of marauding ghouls who want nothing more than to eat you alive. When the dead start walking, it’s time to run!

This particular Xbox Indie title is quite a mash-up of different genres; it’s a zombie shooter-side-scroller that has 3D movement similar to classic beat-em-up games. The zombies themselves can move around the same way that players can, and often leaving you to dodge the slow-moving zombies as they come at you. This game also has survival horror elements with limited ammunition and a sense of overwhelming doom just around the corner.

If anything, Dead Pixels reminds me of an NES version of Left4Dead (somewhat akin to Pixel Force’s NES rendition of L4D), if L4D had RPG characteristics like purchasable upgrades. Rather than walk by buildings, players have the opportunity to scavenge and loot nearby areas by entering through doors. Collecting items in this way is helpful, especially when you’re looking for a specific item that NPC traders are looking for.

Although there aren’t many survivors, there are a few traders who have set up shops in the apocalyptic city. At these markets you can find a variety of items: pretty much everything from ammo, med-kits, and valuable items. Traders are very useful because you can sell items you don’t need for extra cash, buy ammo and med-kits—(trust me, you’ll need them)–and generally empty out your inventory.

Did I mention that your inventory “load” is limited to a certain weight capacity? What happens when you’re over your load count? Well, you run at a gruelingly slow pace that makes you an easy target for nearby zombies, so try to avoid being over-encumbered as much as possible.

One of the most useful functions of a trader, however, is the purchasable upgrades. Each of these upgrades has a different level, each of which progressively cost more for each upgrade level. What’s even cooler about entering a trader shop is the nifty soundtrack–a nice rendition of Moonlight Sonata which really adds in a dramatic effect.

Upgrades are an important part of gameplay and can often be the difference between victory and becoming zombie dinner. There are eight different upgrades in Dead Pixels, each of them affecting gameplay positively in a few key ways:

  • Max Health – As you might have guessed, this increases your maximum health.
  • Running Speed – Heightens your in-game movement speed.
  • Weapon Skill – Increases damage done when shooting.
  • Melee Skill – Increases the stun time and the chance of a critical hit while using melee attacks.
  • Strength – Increases your load capacity and the amount of items you can carry.
  • Bargaining Skill – Brings down the price you pay for items and raises your selling price.
  • Luck – Increases the chance of good things happening when you need them most.

(Another hilarious part of the upgrades is that each one has a little picture of the main character dressed up in various ways)

Apart from the upgrades which are basically like skills and abilities in most RPG’s, Dead Pixels has further elements found in role-playing games with its expansive in-game menu window which is brought up by pressing ‘Back’ or ‘Y’ buttons.

This screen has your Inventory, a nifty side panel that shows your current location,which street you are on, as well as your current ammo count. Other notable menu listings are load capacity, money and HP. There is also a useful Status tab that shows miscellaneous statistics such as zombie kill count and lists all of your character’s current upgrade levels.

There are various weapons and items to make use of throughout your post-apocalyptic journey in Dead Pixels; everything from shotguns and rifles to teddy bears and ‘cans o’ mystery meat.” The most prominent way to find weapons is to buy them from traders, and usually each trader has a different price as well as a different selection of firearms. There are different grades of the same weapon, each of which gets stronger and more advanced the farther players journey.

Each weapon has their own dynamics and characteristics making them useful in different situations. Shotguns are realistic as they shots spray over a radius, whereas the bolt action rifles are single straight shots. The handguns fire single shots as well, just like you’d expect. There are assault rifles that shoot rapid-fire shots, however these weapons deplete ammo quite fast.

When zombies are clustered, grenades come in handy–especially fragmentation and incendiary grenades. Frag grenades annihilate everything in a certain radius, where the fire bombs ignite zombies in a fiery explosion of burning flesh, slowing burning their rotten corpses.

One of the most unique elements about this particular Xbox Indie zombie shooter RPG mash-up is the game’s visual style. With its use of film grain and cigarette burns (those marks and scratches all over the place) give it that vintage and classic 70’s Grindhouse feel, which is something you hardly ever see in any Indie Games, let alone an XBLIG. These elements, combined with the gore and grisly horror of the zombie apocalypse, give the game its signature dark and macabre theme that is essential to any title of this genre.

As a fan of these types of movies (especially the 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez film Grindhouse) I have a profound appreciation for this game as it nods to the genre. Dead Pixels is also presented in “Tecnospectrom Vision” (where available), which is a homage to the old movie theatre formats and intros that would play before the featured presentation.

The Final Truth:

Dead Pixels is a great Xbox Indie title for all gamers out there, and incorporates styles, themes, and game mechanics that players will remember from their early days of NES gaming. With an appealing Grindhouse flair and emphasis on the popular motif of a zombie apocalypse, Dead Pixels revitalizes bit-style arcade action that mixes up RPG elements with character customization with the survival horror shooters all wrapped in side-scrolling mechanics found in old beat’em ups.

This is definitely one of the best XBLIG’s on the marketplace today and is a steal for only 80 MSP, giving player’s hours of zombie-killing action that only gets harder as you progress. Playing two player couch co-op is quite enjoyable as well, and it makes the game much easier when having a friend to help take down the hordes of marauding ghouls, especially in the later levels.

[xrr label=”Rating: 8.75/10″ rating=8.75/10]

+ Variety of weapons and items
+ Surprising level of character customization
+ Blends multiple genres together like shooter, RPG, and side-scroller
+ Enjoyable for all gamers
+ Classic NES graphics
+ Vintage Grindhouse style
+ Awesome music & sound effects
Can be difficult and overwhelming in later stages
Sometimes requires certain character builds
Over-encumbrance and ammo depletion can be frustrating

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For more information on Dead Pixels and the XNA team that developed it please visit the official website.

UPDATE: Since Dead Pixels has achieved both of the sales goals set forth by the developer at CSR Studios, two FREE DLC updates are currently in development. The milestones were achieved rather quickly, as the game has been met with overwhelming positive reviews and acclaim. Click here for more info on the two upcoming DLC’s.

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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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