“Unreasonably hard platform game” is becoming a genre within itself since the advent of Super Meat Boy’s famously unforgiving success. They’ve become a bastion for the hardcore, the people who feel as though videogames have “gone soft”.
It’s a simple way for small studios to make an impact on a market flooded with some deviously tricky titles designed to frustrate and stump even the most experienced gamer. So what does They Bleed Pixels do to set itself apart from the crowd?
You play as an unnamed heroine who’s just sprouted bloody claws after uncovering a very Lovecraftian tome at the Lafcadio School For Girls, as she butchers her way through her nightmares alongside several be-tentacled horrors from below. The game has intentionally low-tec, uncomplicated visuals, but Spooky Squid have managed to do a lot with the minimalist approach and it quickly becomes obvious that if something can move, it can kill you. Okay, so there might be lots of things that can’t move that can also do a very good job of impaling, disintegrating and generally ruining your day, but there are no unnecessary, distracting animations running in the background to give you something else to blame when you die for the fifth time on the same level.
The parallels to Super Meat Boy are obvious. The girl – we’ll call her Fringe – can jump from surface to surface to dodge descending saws and walking bombs. The movement is extremely precise and Fringe doesn’t skid about the place like she’s leaking meat, so when you do die, and you will – you feel like it’s genuinely your fault rather than the result of some cheap level design. That might not sound particularly appealing to the casual among you but for those gamers looking for a rewarding test of skill, They Bleed Pixels has that same tough low-tech feel paired with some interesting new mechanics and a decent set of unlockables to boot. The big difference between They Bleed Pixels and its competitors is combat, gloriously bloody, infinitely precise combat. Fringe attacks primarily with her two giant claws, throwing in some kicks and launching sweeps to mix things up. It’s basic but the four main moves can be mixed up in a number of different and incredibly satisfying ways.
Because of the way combat is designed, just spamming the basic stab will get you killed in no time – you have to be prepared to duck and jump and combo kill, using the same objects in the environment that can impale or mulch you to clear enemies out of the way with as much style as possible. The combo system is the only thing that stops the game from feeling completely minimalist, because it can get so intensely intricate if you’re look to get the highest rank in every level. If you just want to coast through the game, you’re going to need some level of combo literacy to clear levels in the first place. It works in the game’s favour, but adds another obstacle for those who want to play it casually.
Another piece of genius implemented by Spooky Squid is the ability to set your own checkpoints within levels. After collecting a certain number of points, standing still without touching any buttons for a few seconds will cast a ‘glyph’ on the area you’re occupying. It allows you to set your own pace for tackling the more problematic levels but to get the highest scores you need to clear levels without using them at all – which is enough of an incentive to try and minimise your usage of them. It’s a bit quirky and the way you cast them is slightly odd – if you’re standing still without holding down the crouch button, they can often be cast by complete accident – but great regardless.
It’s unfair to criticise a game for being difficult when that is one of its sole intentions, and it won’t lose any points for that, but it’s a real shame that there’s no way of toning the difficulty down to make the game equally accessible to everyone. The game conveys its mechanics so well that it’s easy to become fluent in fighting and jumping, and replaying levels with new and improved skills is always a joy. It’s a high quality game that deserves a hell of a lot of your time, but it’ll make you fight for your rewards, and it’ll make it damn hard for you to love it as much as you should.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.