Dead Pixels

When The Dead Start Walking, It's Time To Run.

John Common, Dead Pixels' developer, hinted today on Twitter that a DLC announcement may come tomorrow. Monday's (presumably) expected announcement will likely be that the game has reached its first in-game milestone, triggering the development of some free DLC for a game, a new mode called "The Solution," or that it's very close to it. That would be noteworthy as it would mean Dead Pixels has reached 4,000 total sales within three days since release. Early public reception and word of mouth is working well for Dead Pixels as it should, because Common's Can't Strafe Right has released a fantastic game, a zombie infested River City Ransom which oozes style, fun, and depth that tons of people are sure to play.

It begins with a toxic waste spill that brings back the dead, a dozen or so pixelated zombies festering in the streets and malls along the way to salvation. The game covers some 10, 20, or 30 streets (depending upon the difficulty level) stretching the path to the right where "a group of survivors on the other side of the city have a way out." The simple goal of the game is to make it to the end alive, but it won't be as easy as it first appears. Ammo is in short supply and "traders," safe houses where weapons, items, and upgrades can be sold or purchased, are even scarcer. Going into the game trigger happy will lead to a fairly swift death as the constant zombie waves drain the weapons of their usefulness. It's hard not to go in blasting, though, for the carnage is great and dead zombies drop valuable coins, but the game is more designed around looting vacant stores and turning in those items for cash, though that comes with its own risk.

Greedy players will soon find themselves over encumbered, their movements slowed to a crawl once the weight threshold has been reached. Strength training can let players carry around more loot at a price, and additional upgrades including running, melee, and bargaining skills are available. Exceeding the weight limit will make the player a sitting duck, but beyond the speed reduction, there is no limit to what a player can carry. It's easy to fall into the hording trap, and I know I winced on a few occasions where I had to drop a valuable gun just to regain my normal walking speed. It's great that the game factors object weight into the game, but the change is so sudden, so dramatic that it feels rather odd once it strikes.

Dead Pixels is going to receive many River City Ransom comparisons, and while it nails the look and light RPG aspects pretty well, I do wish the city were more expansive as in the NES classic. Trudging left to right from street to street with only varying background graphics and some changes in enemy type can make the game feel too simple, too plain. For all of its attention to detail and wonderful presentation -- including spraypainting looted doors, rain effects, and film grain over the display -- the lack of true variety in the locales is hard to ignore, even if the game's strengths overcome the redundant level design. The game may not have a free smile offer from the traders nor would I expect one, but for a game clearly inspired by the Technos beat-em up/RPG hybrid, having a path devoid of interactive objects such as trashcans and inability to jump makes it feel as memorable as the random street names their assigned in the game.

Despite excellent presentation and Daniel Bautista's awesome soundtrack, Dead Pixels is lacking in personality. The main character sprite is poorly animated, even by retro standards, his simplistic run cycle looking quite awkward once weighed down by weapons and valuables. River City Ransom has free smiles and "BARF!" Mega Man blinks. In a world full of zombies, how is it that Dead Pixels' main character seems hardly alive himself? In addition, for a game which takes place in 1983, one wouldn't know it aside from an odd reference to how the working portable computer which can be found and sold "even has a 5.25 floppy drive." Entering a shop always greets players with a "WELCOME STRANGER!" and they all look the same regardless of location (though there are a few different clerks). These are ultimately passable, easily dismissable complaints in light of the Dead Pixels' general excellence, but they do stop the game from looking as great as it should want to look. Dead Pixels' 8-bit inspired graphics are more servicable than charming, nice enough to get the job done yet unable to truly connect with the player.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Dead Pixels. It's an awesome game. It's just that it's so good that it's tough to not see what it could be, or perhaps what I'd want it to be. There's a great template here for an even better game, and perhaps I'll see what with a sequel down the road. As it stands, Dead Pixels is a solid zombie game emphasizing survival over slaughter and providing more fun, challenge, and depth than $1 should be able to buy.

September 18, 2011
September 15, 2011 | 80 points
Developer | Video | Download

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