"Lost on a far away planet... thank God I brought my gun!"
I found it interesting how Pixelkiller was released about a couple of weeks after Kotaku's Independent Games Festival article about Loren Schmidt's Star Guard's Excellence in Design nomination was posted on February 16, 2010. It's not that Pixelkiller copied Star Guard necessarily -- although I'd imagine something such as this could be doable within the months following Star Guard's launch -- but rather how amazingly alike they were in design. Since I found out about and played both games at roughly the same time, it's only natural that I'd find myself comparing the two. It's really unavoidable when both games boil down to a stick man running around shooting stuff to reach an exit.
Both games use simplistic sprites and a wire-frame look but vary quite a bit from there. Whereas Star Guard limits itself to a four-color palette, Pixelkiller cranks it up by putting out twice as many hues on screen . No, it's neither an impressive nor noticeable improvement. What is apparent is how inferior Pixelkiller's animation and presentation are compared to Star Guard. Enemy shots are a blip compared to Star Guard's neon lasers, homing shots, and giant beams which cut through the screen. Some Pixelkiller enemies do fire rockets, but those armed enemies are statues, motionless placeholders for destructible enemy projectile sources. Pixelkiller limits itself to three types of enemies -- giant red retarded Pac-Men, brown bipedal hippos packing heat, or tracking green spiked walls which patrol the floors. Levels also include fixed and rotating cannons, but even then the game feels barren by comparison. Star Guard's squadrons are a varied mix and teeming with life thanks to their unique behaviors and fluid animation. Graphically speaking, Pixelkiller feels akin to what a Hong Kong knock-off of Star Guard may feel like, complete with its boxy and stiffly animated hero replacing Star Guard's more complete Darwinian.
Pixelkiller may not be able to compete graphically with or offer the variety of Star Guard, but it still does its thing pretty well. What Pixelkiller may lack in enemy quality it makes up with quantity as the game loves throwing up to a dozen or so turrets and enemies on screen at once in later sections.It also features secret areas that Star Guard does not, hidden passages which are key to locating some of the ten plus coins found in each level. The ground and walls are not always what they appear to be, and exploring off the beaten path will often reveal the path to the treasures via invisible pits in the floor or gaps in the walls. Both games use copious checkpoints and infinite to ensure most all players can make it through, and Pixelkiller scores one victory in providing a collectathon hunt for coins which should help extend the game's life among the beat-it-and-done crowd. In addition, Pixelkiller's levels may be unremarkably structured compared to Star Guard, but they're longer, more maze-like,and at ten stages offer one more level over the competition.
Furthermore, Pixelkiller includes power-ups and an actual soundtrack which Star Guard does not. The power-ups drastically alter the game when acquired and allow the game to expand on its level design some. While both games are fairly linear, Pixelkiller is less so, sometimes providing multiple paths and approaches for the player to take to reach the exit. The stage select is a welcomed addition as well, allowing the player to revisit completed levels to improve one's score and hunt for hidden coins. Although the game lacks the grandiose conclusion of Star Guard, its final level will appeal to those players cursing the game out and dreaming of revenge along the way there. Unfortunately, the lackluster ending may infuriate people after that point, but I can't imagine many people truly expecting a worthwhile ending after the previous ten levels of barebones action. While that doesn't bother me being a retro-playing game, I am annoyed when these sorts of games forget to include digital control, rendering the D-pad and arcade sticks useless here. The analog control is fine, but I'd like to think an "old school" game would allow for "old school" control.
In any case, Pixelkiller itself is a solid but simplistic platformer, far from perfect but fun just the same. Is it worth the dollar asking price? It was for me as I enjoy these sorts of games, but Pixelkiller definitely looks the part of a red-headed stepchild when put up against Star Guard. Unfortunately, they all can't be Star Guards, and that for better or worse is to be Pixelkiller's place on Xbox Indies and gaming at large. It's an enjoyable and solid enough title in its own right, but Pixelkiller won't be coming home with any Best in Show ribbons to call its own.