Awarded Indie Game of the Month by The Go (9/09), Alien Pyramid Challenge version 1.1 is back with more levels, more mummy, and more sarcasm! In this puzzle game, you're trapped in an ancient Egyptian pyramid with a sly mummy your only companion. Move around giant limestone blocks, dangle from perilous moving platforms, and soar from shockingly-springy springs to find your way out of each room!
I've had a soft spot for Alien Pyramid Challenge! for well over a year now, if only because I felt bad for the developer. My pity stems from Alien Pyramid Challenge! being released just three days before the October 2, 2009 debut of Arkedo Series - 01 JUMP! Both exclamation tagged platformers deliver relatively short arcade romps, but the launch of Arkedo's JUMP! seemed to usher forth a new wave of Xbox Indies which delivered more professional graphics and gameplay than what we regularly saw in the first year of XNA console development. While the two games are not exactly in competition with each other and provide fairly different platformer gameplay, the close proximity of their debuts make it difficult for me to avoid a comparison.
Despite the spotlight Arkedo's JUMP! may have put on the ancient graphics of Alien Pyramid Challenge!, developer Peacock Games has made a decent puzzle style platformer here. Players control a little green alien trapped in a pyramid and having to pick up blocks (and occasionally springs) and move them about to reach an exit portal a la Pyramid Magic. An update has brought the total number of levels to 20, each offering a new block shifting challenge for players to solve. The alien can leap one block high, and although players will find it negotiating moving platforms and leaping across gaps in the terrain, Alien Pyramid Challenge! is more of a puzzle game than a platformer, its obstacles geared more towards working towards a solution rather than carrying that solution out via the controller. Making things easier is the inclusion of save states, allowing players to save and load at any time, greatly reducing some of the game's potential tedium when moving great numbers of blocks around the level. It's nice to be able to resume a current level from an earlier point after accidentally boxing the alien into a pit from which he cannot escape, and the feature doesn't feel as if it tarnishes any of the challenge to be had seeing how death wipes out the current save state, forcing players to start the level anew anyway.
Throughout most of the adventure, each level is introduced by the pyramid's creator, a mummy, who offers tips and jokes before sending players on their way. Stage 7, Twists and Turns, has him informing the alien: "Spikes, spikes, and more spikes. While designing this room, my decorator Antonio told me that spikes really make an ancient labyrinth 'pop.' I fired him after this." While never really funny or truly helpful, it's a cheap and decent way to inject some personality into an otherwise bland looking game. Every single room is rendered alike, and the player has basically seen everything the game has to offer with the introduction of springs in the third stage, Old Bouncy. The sprite sheet for the game must consist of exactly ten images: the Super Mario Bros. bricks which give each level its boundaries, two types of blocks with only cosmetic differences between them, green platforms, gray spikes, a ladder tile, two kinds of springs (which could easily be a palette change than a separate item), and the two animation frames devoted to our alien hero. Yes, it's just two frames; the alien doesn't have a jump animation nor any change when carrying a block. If not for the general acceptance of simple 2-D graphics, Alien Pyramid Challenge! would be considered an ugly game, its 30-year-old graphics being the only thing trapped inside Peacock Games' pyramid until the alien arrived. The simple graphics are good enough to convey the puzzles and do not obstruct gameplay, but even by retro standards, I'd expect a modern developer to present a better looking product.
The background music by contrast is more current, a light ditty with electronic and R&B elements which is the sole song heard throughout the game. While it's nothing I'd listen to outside from the game, I managed to complete the game without growing tired of hearing it. I also enjoyed my time with the game, because while the puzzle design isn't brilliant (and whose solutions are often reached with far fewer blocks than allowed), it was challenging enough to be interesting, compelling enough to continue playing until I found a path to the exit. Given how Arkedo's JUMP! dealt Alien Pyramid Adventure! an aesthetic black eye at launch, it never had a chance to impress anyone, but it clearly wasn't going to do that looking as it does anyway. Now, the game also has more competition in the XBLIG library, and it's a tough sell when stacked against far better looking and playing games of the same price. Still, for those interested in looking past its aged and lazy presentation, Alien Pyramid Challenge remains an enjoyable puzzle platformer, even if it struggles to compete against the marketplace leaders, and is at least worth a look.