Serenity Forge's second game to hit Steam this year is Pixel Galaxy, a top-down shooter... of sorts. It combines elements of bullet hell games with several other genres, including Tetris -style rotation mechanics. Should you attach it to your library, or avoid it like a curtain of enemy fire? Let's find out in my Pixel Galaxy review!
We met Z and the crew from Serenity Forge at PAX South in January 2015, where they showed us Pixel Galaxy, as well as The King's Bird which is slated for release in 2016. Z sent us a copy of Pixel Galaxy earlier this week for review.
Related Video I also played a few rounds in co-op with my lovely (and understanding) wife, you can watch that on our YouTube channel:
Hell is for Pixels
Pixel Galaxy is almost certainly an example of the Bullet Hell genre. You start the game as a lone pixel, and very quickly enemy pixels arrive to flood the screen with tinier pixel bullets. Letting your pixel come into contact with these bullets is an instant game over.
The goal is to survive for 100 seconds, at which case a boss will arrive that shoots an obscene amount of bullets. Beating the boss unlocks the next difficulty level, although you can continue to play another 100 seconds and face another boss, and so forth, until your luck and/or skill run out.
Although you must dodge enemy bullets, coming into contact with enemy pixels is actually a good thing. Every enemy pixel you touch becomes part of your ship. Even better, any weapons that pixel was using are suddenly your weapons. If you've ever played Tumiki Fighters or the Wii remake Blast Works this will feel familiar. If not, think of it like Katamari Damacy meets Every Extend.
There are also brightly colored pixels that make your ship faster, and shield pixels that absorb more than the standard one shot before disintegrating. Then there's bomb pixels, which kill you on contact. Luckily, you can rotate your ship in 90 degree increments in order to dodge fire or change which side of your ship you're going to get hit on.
Got all that? Okay, now forget it, because basically Pixel Galaxy is so hard that you're going to be mostly focused on the most basic survival. Sure, there's some easy difficulty levels ("Easiest" to "Easy") but once the rubber hits the road ("Normal," "Normaler," and finally "Normalest" - hah) there's very little room for careful thinking.
It's all about reflexes and adapting to the ever-changing chaos of the playing field and trying to keep your "core" pixel from getting hit. That, and mashing the "A" button to restart, an action you will no doubt do frequently.
(Full disclosure: I'm stuck on "Normaler." "Normalest" is right out.)
One aspect of Pixel Galaxy that I really enjoyed was the music. I've had several games recently where I thought the music was generally pretty good, but Pixel Galaxy's soundtrack has been stuck in my head since I started playing it.
Pixel Galaxy also features couch co-op, which was a pleasant surprise. If one player dies, the other player can touch them to bring them back to life. It's a fun way to play, although finding a partner as skilled as you are in the Bullet Hell genre might be a little tricky. My wife and I played, and every time I'd try to explain something to her (a boss fight, for example) she'd be dead before I got as far as "Okay, watch out for..."
On top of the standard survival modes, there are also a few additional ways to play. There's a boss rush mode, as well as the option to replay a single boss in the "Coliseum." There's also a passive mode that can be unlocked.
Sometimes the minimalistic design of Pixel Galaxy works against it. For example, many pixel types look similar, and can be hard to distinguish in the split second you have to react. Bombs, shields, and speed pixels all share the same particle effect, although in their defense, they are different colors.
Speaking of colors, Pixel Galaxy occasionally shifts the color scheme around on you, which I found disorienting. It can be hard enough to keep track of which bullets are yours and which are the enemies without the color changing every so often. This also frequently coincides with a boss fight, where you're thrown into an even harder situation with little time to react. One boss fight in particular turns the whole game monochrome, so telling everything apart becomes really difficult.