Pixel Heroes:
Byte & Magic
Feb 06
Posted by Mark at 14:35

There's every chance that this game's title alone will tell you everything you need to know. It's going to make a song and dance about its low-res art style, and it's not going to take itself that seriously.

A roguelike, you start your adventure by assembling your rag-tag bunch of adventurers as they head off on their quests to help the citizens of Pixton, a city very aware of its retro appearance, by exploring dungeons and lopping the heads off the various beasties within.

Those dungeons, as befitting the genre, are procedurally generated and unforgiving- and if your characters cark it on their way through, then unless one of them makes it to the end and can pay for a resurrection, they're gone for good.

Those expecting a dungeon-crawler in the vein of Diablo or even Etrian Oddysey will be coming away disappointed, however. Rather than being left to navigate a maze, taking down monsters and collecting loot as you go, the game simply plonks you in a room which will contain either some monsters or a chest, and once that's dealt with, you get a quick shuffle of your inventory and it's onto the next room.

For a genre where inventory management matters so much, it's surprising to see that Pixel Heroes makes such a mess of it- the inventory shares its screen with the character stats, and to equip an item involves choosing it from the inventory menu, pressing and holding 'A', moving over to the character's equipment slot and then releasing the button.

This screen, which contains two grids of items, space for a short description and a graph of the character's stats, winds up being cramped and messy to fit into a screen with the effective resolution of the 3DS' bottom screen, a canvas which has seen many, far better similar screens.

The interface isn't a lot better in the main game, with unnecessarily huge icons for your party's attacks pushing the action into the top third of the screen. Each character can equip two weapons and has two innate skills, and the two groups can be toggled between. The two teams- your team of three, usually facing off against three enemies- trade blows until one team expires.

Only one member of each team can act in each turn, and the one who acts has to rest during the next turn- this reduces battles to alternately attacking and healing, and removes much of the strategic advantages to attacking one member of the enemy team over the other.

The game has its genesis in a mobile game released about six months ago, which goes some way to explaining many of its design decisions- the huge icons being designed to be poked by fat fingers on undulating trains, and the holding of buttons being a holdover from being able to drag across the screen.

In its natural habitat of mobile, this is a nice distraction- bite-size gameplay chunks which are easily operated on autopilot, superfically reminiscent of the games people played in their youth, all mercifcully free of the trappings of microtransaction-driven free-to-play. At home it's just a bit of a waste of time- not involved enough to warrant full attention and made less enjoyable by a lazy port.
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10 Second
Ninja X
Posted by Mark at 09:06

The sequel to the lesser-known but still well-recieved 10 Second Ninja gets X appended to its title, which I'm taking to mean is pronounced "Ecks", like the letter. Although not holding onto that suffix for Ten Second Ninja Ten seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

As previously mentioned, this is another of those precision platformers, but this time the gimmick is that each level must be completed in ten seconds or less. At the end of each level, you are awarded one, two or three stars based on your time, and when you clock up enough of them you unlock more levels (in batches of ten, obviously) and get to do it all over again. In this case, the objective is to destroy a handful of enemies in the time limit, rather than reach the exit.

Something that does stand out is that where Ten Second Ninja Cross has looked backwards for its aesthetics it's looked to Sonic, which isn't something that you see very often outside of games which are also seeking to ape the series' gameplay too- the protagonist is blue, runs around fast and curls up into a ball when he jumps. The enemies (which release blue birds when destroyed) clearly take their design cues from the Eggrobos in Sonic & Knuckles, and the antagonist is even an angry ginger with fantastic facial hair.

Ironically considering this game's genre and what it takes influence from, it is almost completely devoid of inertia. While it's free of many of the load times that Super Meat Boy had on xBox 360, it brings everything to a complete stop at the end of each level while it individually gives you each of your stars, then tells you how long you took, with a bonus pause before all that if you've managed a new best time. Things like the automatic replay and even the limited animation on the loading screen SMB always felt like it was moving even when it was stopped.

Something that brings the game to a much more crashing halt is the game's three-star system as a means of gating progression. To unlock each group of levels you need to get two-thirds of the available stars, and the difficulty of this is pitched just a smidge too high for the first set. Getting your first fifteen stars from the thirty available is easy enough, but squeezing out the other five is a different (and more tedious) question altogether, which is a shame as it's after the first ten levels that the game really starts to get into gear.

After that, the initial single-screen hub world expands into a massive flying ship with other characters and hidden bits. The game's story, which is lightweight and raises the occasional smile, starts to kick in and the levels themselves start to add more interesting challenges, like electrified surfaces and things you can bounce your shurikens off.

Most importantly, by this time you've got enough practice in and you can get those three-star times in the early levels, and new ones come at a quicker pace, with those new elements gradually moving the game's focus away from reaction to puzzles and careful planning, which is a much more rewarding task than that first chapter.

10 Second Ninja The Sound From Family Fortunes has a lot to offer, particularly in a genre that's not seen a lot of love recently- it's just a shame that it's unfortunately hidden it behind a rather poor start.
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