Platform reviewed: PlayStation 4
After a year of overblown blockbusters, fizzled out triple-A efforts and disappointing multi-million unit sellers, it’s refreshing to find a developer that knows exactly the sort of the game that they want to make and have the passion to match. French studio Pastagames is that developer and Pix the Cat is that game. A glorious throwback to the life-draining, obsessive arcade tundra of the 80s, Pix the Cat might not be the most heralded or hyped game by the mainstream media, but it certainly is one of the best puzzlers you could hope to play all year on a PlayStation platform.
Pix the Cat taps into that most primal of gaming instincts, namely the need to forever accrue and beat the highest score on the leaderboard and as far as the gameplay goes, Pastagames latest lovingly cribs from a number of classical influences.
A beautifully compelling mixture of Pac-Man, Snake and Chu Chu Rocket, Pix the Cat is a top-down pressure-puzzler that requires the player to stretch their skills (and the skin of their thumbs) to the absolute limit.
In Pix the Cat’s main mode the task at hand is pleasingly simple; players have to guide the pixelated feline around a maze, collecting eggs which then hatch into ducklings and proceed to follow him around wherever he goes. The idea is to have a train of these ducks following you and then drop them off into little holes in the ground before escaping through the exit into the next maze. A ‘perfect’ run can be achieved by picking up all the eggs and then dropping them all in their holes without a break in between.
It’s not immediately clear why you have to do this, but given that the game looks like some sort of LSD-infused 80’s arcade fever dream, we can happily forgive such narrative plot holes with appropriately gleeful ignorance.
Where the challenge comes in is that as your combo meter increases your score as you drop ducklings into holes, it can plummet right down to zero if your train of quacking chums reverses back into itself or if you let them unceremoniously collide with the nearest enemy (of which they are seldom encountered in the earlier levels, thankfully). Furthermore, a perpetually ticking timer is also present too; providing yet additional pressure on the player to rack up as much score within a finite period of time as possible.
The thing is, the longer your combo meter goes uninterrupted the faster everything moves and the smaller the margin of error becomes. It’s a tremendously engaging core gameplay mechanic and one which the developers carefully build upon to offer prolonged challenge in the later stages. Such challenge comes in the form of sprawling multi-tiered mazes, some truly savage map layouts and Fever Mode where the screen explodes in a cacophony of coloured neon as both your combo multiplier and movement speed shoot through the roof.
Speaking of speed, the terribly tight turns that the game requires you to do simply cannot adequately be obliged by the analogue sticks so instead, embracing the D-pad early on becomes a definite and clear necessity if those dreams of high placements on the leaderboard are to be realised. Performing a perfect run on a difficult maze after a few hours of slowly incrementing your high-score is one of the greatest gaming pleasures you can have right now and it’s a high that Pix the Cat replicates over and over.
If it hasn’t become clear yet, the potential for high-level play in Pix the Cat is staggering. Aside from deciding on your path ahead of time to get an optimal score, the game also allows players to boost off walls too; increasing their speed in the process and allowing them to rack up a higher score in a shorter amount of time. Simply, this is a game that rewards players whose penchant for tactics and planning stands on an equal footing with their motor skills and where progress is measured in the increment of split-seconds and single-digits rather than anything else.
Like Velocity 2X and TxK before it, Pix the Cat is a game that operates at the very apex of skill-based play. With its warmly accessible gameplay mechanics, the game endeavours to help even the least dexterous of us better ourselves to reach the lofty heights of mastery that it proffers.
Beyond the already considerable playtime that most will invest in the bread and butter main arcade scenario, the game also boasts a whole bunch of other modes and extras too that can be unlocked with repeat play. Daily challenges are unlocked when players reach a certain score milestone in the main game, while the Laboratory game type taxes your grey matter more than your thumbs, boasting a series of slower-paced puzzles to solve.
Additionally, the game also packs in a Ghost Mode too, allowing players to pit themselves against ghosts of themselves or others to not only better learn the layouts of the stages, but to earn some great bragging rights too.
Rounding off the package, there’s Nostalgia mode which morphs the game into an effortlessly cute take on the cartoons of the early 20’s and 30’s while Arena Mode is a full-tilt competitive game type for up to four players.
Easily the surprise of the whole package and acting as a brilliant palette cleanser from the core experience of the game, Arena Mode bears a noted similarity to classic favourite Bomberman as players scoot around a map collecting eggs, not to free their contents, but instead to fire at opponents to stun them and accrue points in the process. As well as the eggs, all manner of additional weapons are available too such as mines, rockets and more besides conjuring an end result of a game mode that enraptures players as completely as the main game does.
If Pix the Cat does have a little bit of mange in its fur, then that would lay not so much with the game itself, but with the infrastructure that surrounds it. You see, while the game is Cross- Buy enabled, it is not Cross-Save compliant which seems like a tragic oversight given how well the gameplay experience translates from PlayStation 4 to Vita and vice-versa. Hopefully this is something that can be corrected by an update in the near future.
Sitting atop Pix the Cat’s tirelessly engaging gameplay is a thick veneer of cheerful aesthetics that is charming as the game itself. With its relentlessly colourful visuals, brilliant warping effects that occur when Pix hops from one maze to the next and just generally fluffy and happy presentation; Pix the Cat just oozes the spirit of a game that wants nothing less than to give you a great time from every pixelated pore.
A lean and entertaining puzzle romp that places a rightful premium on gameplay over bloated sheen and false expectation, Pix the Cat is a solid contender for Game of the Year. Even better, this carefully scribed love-letter to the score-attack videogames of yesteryear is also completely free right now to PlayStation Plus subscribers.
What are you waiting for? Boundless fun awaits.