Monday, 6 July 2015

Adventures of Pip Review (PC)


Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

Oh me, oh my, yet another platformer with retro-aspiration. It would appear that the bit-aesthetic is still in full flow, for various reasons, but it is prudent to remember that the quality of character is not to be judged upon frail comparison. Adventures of Pip makes a great stab due to an innovative and engaging central game mechanic that acts as a vital load-bearer to what could be just another grunt in an ever increasing forlorn hope.

The core of the game revolves around the ability to evolve and de-evolve the titular Pip from single blocky square to fully realised 32-bit character. Each evolution has unique abilities, be it attack or movement based, but the innovation comes in the transitional moments, from one state to another. For example, from 2nd level evolution is a simple pixelly figure, you can send a shockwave as you devolve to a single pixel. With this you can blast away environmental elements.

This neat trick, played out in different ways up and down Pip's evolutionary ladder creates a progressive, layered experience far from a linear platform experience. The gameplay is a case of matching your state to the context, which can involve backtracking and lateral thinking, always bearing in mind where you can evolve back up and down. This is not to say that the platforming is lacking in pace. There is a nice variety of enemies and environmental obstacles, but sadly, nothing you haven't seen before.

The story is nestled right up to the core mechanic, involving an ambitiously evil Queen, who desires the full hi-res treatment, casting the rest of the populous of the land into single-pixel poverty. Indeed, there is a joyous representation of class strata through the different stages of resolution. Perhaps the developers at Tic Toc Games are implying that Pip, as the effective hero, is only able to accomplish great feats by transcending social stagnation and embracing the differing benefits provided by his contextual, relative and current class position. Or maybe it's just a platformer.

A key factor, as always with this genre, is the controls and their immediacy to player and action. It's no Meat Boy, but control-wise nothing really is. This is a more considered affair, rather than a relentless twitch-reaction flurry of perfectly executed wall-jumps, twists and ducks, although Pip has all these elements. I played with a controller and found it perfectly functional, responsive and quick. The challenge of the game is weighted in the variety of abilities, rather than the thunder of digits on buttons. Pip's animations feel immediate and very much engaged with your presses.

With all this praise, I'm sure you're waiting for a crushing ‘but’. The music is brilliant, summoning up some decent pastiches of platformers-past with epic and sweeping, yet catchy ditties. The UI is cheerfully blocky, nodding at Zelda et al. The world map is a cheeky Mario nod. It's all there. So, where is the ‘but’? I would have to mark it back from any higher than an 8 on it's ability to slightly numb you. The areas go on a bit too long, so after you've been introduced to new abilities and situations, then you're tested on them, the scenarios lingered too long for my patience. I was desperate for the bosses to appear. (Editor’s note – the game is also not the friendliest for colour blind gamers due to spikes blending into the backgrounds)

On the point of bosses, they are Robotnik style affairs, but ramp up the need for pitch-perfect jumps which seem a little unfair compared to the levels themselves. Not that I don't want a challenge, but you realise very quickly what you need to do, but can take far too many attempts. At least for my skill and patience. In any case, this is my gripe, which I think drags Pip from a “must buy” level to a “get if you love platformers” section.

All in all, however, with Adventures of Pip, Tic Toc Games have made something cheerful, innovative and entertaining, if a little long in the tooth for my jaw.

Overall 8/10

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