This week has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, I’ve played a bunch of games which have left me confused, frustrated, full of anxiety, and on the brink of rage quitting and refusing to continue (not in a bad way, as the games purposely set out to do this). To top it off, I’ve also been playing pixelBOT EXTREME!, another game which loves to watch you die over, and over, and over again, until you can’t take it any more and you ‘accidentally’ close the game and boot up Fall Guys. However, despite my countless number of deaths, I feel I’ve experienced enough to give my opinion on the game.
Originally released on Steam in April 2018 by developer PlayHeart Games, pixelBOT EXTREME! has since received a number of updates that altered the gameplay and added new features, all of which are present within this new PS4 release. Rather than publishing the title themselves, FusionPlay has stepped in to take care of this aspect, a team I’ve worked with before when I reviewed both their cute VR kitten simulator, Konrad the Kitten (which is now known as Konrad’s Kittens) and their physical NFC card game, FusionPlay Heroes.
So, let’s take a look at this pixelBOT EXTREME!, the new addictive indie game which really tests your reaction speeds…
There is no story or set-up within pixelBOT EXTREME!, the only narrative you’re given is that you play as the titular protagonist and you must escape the factory – that’s it. This is because the main focus of the game lies within it’s addictive and sadistic gameplay rather than a long and informative backstory or flowing narrative. However, this type of game does just fine without anything to hold it together as it’s an arcade-like experience which is best played in short bursts (especially if you don’t have much patience or get annoyed easily).
The gameplay sounds simple on paper, traverse through endlessly moving levels as a robot which can hover (Flappy Bird style) whilst shooting various colour-coded barriers, enemies and projectiles which will kill you in one hit if you’re not quick enough. This must be done whilst also picking up a number of collectable energy packs and spelling out your name in gold in order to unlock the bonus rounds. The interesting thing is, there are four colours used within the game, as your weapons, enemies and barriers, which are mapped to the four face buttons of the DS4 – making it either really efficient or super confusing.
That’s pretty much the premise of the game, make it to the finish line in one piece with as many pick-ups as you can. There are no limits on continues, lives, time, or how many you have to pick up before you can cross the checkered flag, just make it without rage quitting and move on to the next level. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds (if the above actually sounds easy).
pixelBOT EXTREME! is a very, very hard and frustrating game. Let’s talk about the gameplay mechanics first. If you’re playing the game on the normal or hard difficulties, the protagonist moves like Flappy Bird, as I mentioned above. You basically move up as you press up on the D-pad or Left Thumb Stick, and down if you press nothing. You can also slam down faster if you push down, which is great if trying to manoeuvre in tight spaces or trying to grab a collectable which is right after an opening. This means you have to constantly be aware of your little robot and perfectly time your thrusts so that you don’t go face-first into a spiked enemy or fall into a pit.
Secondly, despite how long you’ve played on a PlayStation, you’ll instantly forget what colours the face buttons are as soon as you start to play this game. You begin with one colour, red, which is mapped to Circle as that button is also red. Soon you’ll have the ability to use green (Triangle), blue (Cross), then pink (Square), all of which perfectly line up with the controller. However, the speed at which the barriers approach, the constant looking out for the safety of your robot, and the clever level design which purposely makes you move around a lot so you don’t get squished, all adds to the frustration and panic which the game thrives on.
Thankfully, there are a few things you can enable if you wish to try and make things a little easier for yourself. First of all, you can play on Easy and have the protagonist hover constantly – he won’t auto fall when you stop pushing up. This makes it a little easier as it now becomes more akin to side-scrolling space shooters rather than “Flappy Bird in Spaaaaace”. Secondly, you can have the face buttons display in the bottom corner of the screen with their respective colours – making it easier to remember which colour the button is that you need to push without taking your eyes off the screen. Finally, you can also turn on autofire so that you constantly shoot without keeping your finger on the respective face button.
I chose the first two options but autofire seems a bit redundant as you have auto fire anyway – you don’t have to keep tapping the button – but the other two ‘easy’ options made it slightly more bearable for me.
The game itself isn’t very long when looking at the number of levels on offer. There are three bosses, one at the end of each set of stages (three to five), and each level has both a ‘normal’ version and an EXTREME edition which is unlocked by collecting all the letters which spell out your name. Now, if you’re like me and you chose to play the game on Easy, good luck with the newly unlocked bonus levels as they’re not only a much higher difficulty, introducing more barriers and enemies, but it also forces you to use the Flappy Bird movement method – no easy hover mode here!
Thankfully, as I said above, there’s no timers, unlimited lives, and a generous amount of checkpoints. This means that when you die – which you will, a lot – you’ll instantly respawn and be back in the action. It’s a shame the game doesn’t count how many times you’ve died – purely so you can laugh at yourself – but I’m glad there’s no trophies or requirements to complete the levels flawlessly or within a set amount of time before you can move on. However, level progression is blocked until you pick up a certain number of energy pods, but I always had enough to move on so the limit isn’t very strict.
A feature which I never really got to try out is that you can play the entire game with a co-op partner locally. Rather than both of you taking control of four guns, one for each colour, you both man two of the four colours, making co-operation a must if you wish to live. The mode sounds fun and something which could possibly make the game a little easier, but I won’t really be able to try it out for a while due to the current lockdown in place within my city.
pixelBOT EXTREME! is a quirky indie title with very nice pixel-art visuals. The way the game has been built around the four face button colours is great as its very interesting and something I’ve not seen that often outside of puzzle games. The environments are a little basic looking but that’s the point, your focus is meant to be on the multi-coloured enemies and barriers so you know which weapon to use to defeat them as you also try to keep the protagonist afloat.
In terms of the music, to match the old-school aesthetic, the developers have used lo-fi chiptunes from Phonotrash, along with retro sound effects to fully create the retro indie style they were going for. I personally liked the music and the overall audio experience with the game, it helped to try and keep me determined to finish the stage even though I’d died easily over a hundred times on some stages!
Trophy-wise, I’m not very good at these types of games as my reaction speeds aren’t as good as they used to be and I tend to forget things when under pressure – in this case, I kept forgetting which colours related to each button. But, I’ve seen that some people have managed to obtain all of them without too many issues, so it isn’t impossible, it’s just a tricky and rather difficult game that requires a lot of concentration. I don’t think I’ll be getting 100% of them any time soon, but it’s something which fans of the shooter genre will be proud to have on their trophy list.
Also, there’s both an EU and NA trophy list – in case you fancy trying to complete them both!
pixelBOT EXTREME! is a very addictive ‘one more go’ retro-inspired shoot ’em up with a colourful twist. Despite the game making me rather frustrated and constantly in a panic, I found that I couldn’t stop playing it due to being determined to make it to the end and cross the flag, even if it meant bypassing most of the collectables. There are three difficulty modes (four if you include the unlocked Extreme levels), and a few assist options to make the game a little easier for those new to the genre, but if you’re going for 100% trophies then good luck – it gets quite tricky and really tests your reaction speeds. Also, if you have someone else in your house to play with, the co-op mode sounds fun as you really do need to co-operate in order to win.