Dead Pixels is an 8-bit tribute to the true zombie genre, filling the gap in the Indie games market where other developers have arguably fallen short. It’s a charming collaboration of wit and nostalgia which results in an addictive arcade-style side-scroller.
Surprisingly, there’s a fair amount to say about the plot of Dead Pixels across its three different game modes. In the first campaign you play a survivor with a simple idea; a zombie apocalypse has broken out after a toxic waste spillage, and you must escape the city by all means necessary. Interestingly the second game mode, ‘The Solution’, puts you in the shoes of a convict sent in by the U.S. government to blow up the city’s power plant in order to stop the zombie horde, which gives a great sense of scope to the narrative of the game. There’s also a pure survival mode, which offers non-stop zombie slaying action.
‘8-bit Zombie Survival Action Game’ were the five words chosen by John Commons of CSR Studios, when I asked him to describe his game. It’s a refreshingly nostalgic throw back to games such as River City Ransom on the NES and Streets of Rage for the Mega Drive. Elements of Left 4 Dead are also present in the movie-style posters which accompany the game-mode selection. While we’re on the subject of movies, Dead Pixels cutscenes are covered by a classic film grain effect, and even includes an intermission upon reaching half-way through your playthrough. It’s a brilliant artistic touch and develops the natural charm of the game immensely.
To reach safety in Dead Pixels, you’ll have to shoot, dodge and melee a lot of zombies. To help you through your ordeal is the ability to loot abandoned homes for weaponry or junk, which you are able to sell to various merchants. These guys will sell you better weapons and the ammo to go with them while also allowing you to level up skills; damage, health, run-speed etc. This is where the core gameplay evolves to create a zombie survival simulator; do you prefer to deal slightly increased damage with all your weapons, or go for the highly upgraded shotgun? Ultimately the choice is yours, but at that moment you could have just ended it for yourself.
Deceivingly tough is a phrase I would use to describe Dead Pixels; even the ‘Easy’ difficulty can be tricky. Ammo scarcity is a real problem throughout the game, which is unfortunate as the gunplay is very addictive. You’ll often find yourself with no choice but to run and weave your way through the levels from checkpoint to checkpoint until you find ammo, which puts a dampener on the action. How lucky you are – or, unlucky, as the case may be – also crops up. Looting buildings has a chance to sound an alarm which will draw big groups of the horde to you; usually at the worst opportunity.
That being said, conquering the game is amazingly satisfying, and the local co-op mode will allow you to take on the experience with a friend. If you’re feeling nostalgic, but want to try something new which will make you use your BRAAAINS, Dead Pixels is definitely worth some undivided attention. It’s available on the Xbox Live Arcade, and on Steam.