I currently own an Oculus Rift and a PSVR and I was torn between which version of Pixel Ripped 1989 to purchase. Since this game is a seated-only experience that relies on you playing a virtual handheld device, I decided to get the PSVR version. What is cool about the PSVR version is the fact that your Dual Shock 4 controller can be physically tracked in VR. If you play on a PC headset and use an Xbox controller, you won’t be able to move your “Game Kid” handheld around while playing. If you want to be able to move the virtual handheld freely, the only option you will have is to use your Oculus Touch controller. I love the Oculus Touch controller, but I personally didn’t find the lack of a d-pad ideal for playing a somewhat difficult 8-bit platformer.
The theme song was one of the first things that caught my attention to this game. It’s very catchy and nails the epic 80’s video game superhero vibe perfectly. You can get a taste of it in the trailer for the game:
The core concept of this game is that you are playing a generic handheld console that is called a “Gear Kid”. The handheld has a monochrome dot-matrix display (similar to the original Game Boy) and the game you are playing is mashup between Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man. There are only two buttons to worry about. One shoots and runs, while the other is for jumping. If you were never a fan of holding down the run button in Mario games, this game will be nearly impossible for you to beat, since the platforming can be frustrating at times. The shooting feels very similar to a Mega Man game and your health is based on how many “pixels” you can collect. As you collect more pixels in the level, your character becomes more detailed looking. You can go from looking like a character from an Atari game if you are on the brink of death and as you get stronger you will look almost as detailed as a 16-bit character. If you get hit by an enemy, your collected pixels will fly all over the place for you to recollect before they disappear, which reminded me of the rings from Sonic the Hedgehog.
The neatest part about Pixel Ripped 1989 is that there are two gaming environments to focus on at once. At first, I couldn’t help but to look around at the classroom that I was sitting in. I was sitting at a desk and there were students all around me. When I looked down, I noticed that my avatar was a little girl wearing a dress, with a power glove on one hand, and holding my handheld 80’s game console. Eventually, I decided to focus more on the handheld game, but quickly realized that if I focused too much on the game, the teacher would become angry that I wasn’t paying attention. In order to keep playing my handheld without getting into trouble, I had to shoot spitballs at random highlighted objects in the classroom to keep the teacher distracted.
Since this has a game within a game concept, it can be easy to forget about the real-life environment that you are in. When something surprising happened in the vr environment, I would sometimes get startled as if it happened in the real world. The game will begin to throw out surprises in very creative ways, so don’t expect to be doing any specific activity for too long.
Unfortunately, this game is far from perfect. The 3d modeling and some design elements can come across a little sloppy and rushed, which is extra noticeable in a vr title. The game can be infuriatingly difficult, especially during the final boss. The boss battle will have several “stages” and there are no checkpoints. There are gameplay elements during the boss battle where you are having to use your head to aim while controlling your handheld character at the same time, which forces you to look away from your character when you should be avoiding hazards coming your way. I don’t mind losing when it’s my fault and I can learn what I did wrong, but dying during this part of the game felt a little cheap to me and started sucking the fun out of the entire experience, especially when you have to start the entire battle over from the beginning when you die. They definitely succeeded at going for nostalgia with an 80’s level of difficulty.
Overall, I would still recommend picking up Pixel Ripped 1989, but not at its current asking price. The entire experience can be completed in roughly 2 hours or less, depending on how many times you have to restart a level, and there isn’t much replay value. There are some really cool moments that would this an awesome title to demonstrate vr to friends and family that have an appreciation for classic 8-bit platformers. The launch price of $24.99 on PSVR and $19.99 on PC might make you feel a little buyers remorse, but don’t let that stop you from at least putting the game on your wish list and waiting for a sale.