Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adventures of Pip (PS4)

Tic Toc Games takes all the impressive things about the retro gaming era including the 8-bit goodness of the NES, the 16-bit upgrade of the SNES, and the graphical 32-bit upgrade of consoles like the original Playstation, and makes the penultimate homage to the classic gaming experiences us older generation of gamers grew up enjoying. Of course there are a lot of nods, and inspiration borrowing from titles of said consoles, and console eras, but for the most part "Adventures of Pip" remains it's own unique experience throughout it's entirety. Beyond the Metroidvania platforming, The Castlevania quotes, the Legend of Zelda II features, and the Super Mario World maps you'll find a story about a tiny pixelated kingdom not unlike our own world. Within said kingdom lies a land divided by wealth, social standings, and the lack thereof. The currency, and social stature being that of pixels themselves. Things like today's real world stock market, the homeless, and the potential introduction of a one world currency (BitCoin) come to mind in relation to this game's accompanying lore.

Status discrimination, which is a result of the social order within the tiny kingdom comes to light itself in the form of a fairytale story that has the well-to-do high resolution residents being well off in their castle stronghold while the lower resolution citizens are left out in the slums to fend for themselves. It isn't until Princess Adeline fulfills a hopeful prophecy of old with her ability to create pixels from nothing that the kingdom, and it's people are once again on common ground. As with any fairytale though a villain does rear her ugly head, and makes it known almost immediately that she desires the power that the princess possesses for her own devious plans. This sorceress named, Queen DeRezzia captures the princess early on destroying the  princess's kingdom in the process. Villagers are kidnapped, and some are even turned into single pixels like the king, and queen. In the midst of the dire dilemma though there is an unlikely hero on castle grounds.

Who is this hero, you ask? In this fairytale's case the main protagonist is a single pixel boy named Pip. In fact Pip looks like one of the shapes out of one of those cuss worthy indie games that try your patience through controllable shapes, and hard to avoid obstacles. A solid red square. After being told to save the princess, and the tiny kingdom he resides in Pip, the red square (er, I mean pixel) sets out into the kingdom lands bounding along, and pouncing on baddies as he does so. It isn't until he comes across spirits of the past though that he is bestowed with the power to upgrade, and downgrade his own resolution into three different forms. It is through those three gifted forms he is in turn able to brave the obstacles, and enemies that are in his path ultimately freeing his kingdom from the grip, and wrath of Queen Derezzia.

As Pip you will be playing through one of the most trying puzzle, time, and objective oriented 2D platforming adventures to date. As I mentioned earlier the pixelated adventure which Pip is to embark upon borrows a lot from past retro games, but does so in it's own unique visual style. Seeing as the village in said adventure is destroyed, and people of interest are missing Pip must set out to the lands beyond the castle gates by his lonesome in order to free the princess, and return the tiny kingdom back to working order. To do this Pip (you) will need to evolve, and devolve his resolution through the powers he is gifted from level progress, and chance meetings with helpful souls. Once gifted said powers Pip will be able to devolve with a simple button press (L2/CIRCLE), and upgrade, or evolve his form by Goomba stomping, or attacking certain crystal-like creatures.

Each of Pips pixel oriented forms (pixel, 8-bit, 16-bit) have a certain set of skills (Bless you Liam Neeson!) that will help you to traverse the dungeon-like platforming levels. The square single pixel form, for example can jump far, bounce high, and glide upon descent. It can also squeeze through tiny areas that would ne inaccessible otherwise. The secondary form which is the 8-bit version of Pip can run fast, can punch, and can wall cling/jump in a Metroidvania style. This too helps you access harder to reach places that the other forms can't. The final 16-bit form gives Pip a more knightly appearance, and gifts him the use of a sword which can break through blocks marked with the sword icon. With the sword, and armor though Pip's speed is slowed down significantly, and his former wall jumping abilities are void. While switching between each form Pip will also cause an energy burst which can destroy certain blocks that are within range. This in itself is helpful for getting past blocked off areas within the sub-stages. Utilizing, and  learning when to use each of Pip's forms is explained through face button (SQUARE) accessible pictures on signs, and character dialogue that are near where new mechanics are needed.

Going about your adventure, and rescue missions will require that you travel along the level, and stage appointed map. The map itself is a lot like the one you'd see in 'Super Mario World', and has the levels divided up into eight sub-stages each. Each of which are accessed by traveling along a line to a stage marker. You'll start off going through the forest that resides next to the village, and further along the map's pixelated terrain into more ominous, and elementally challenged regions as you progress. Each stage is sort of short in length, but will test your skills as a platforming enthusiast. You'll find that enemies can be used in more ways than one, and that Pip's new abilities can be used in other ways than initially implied in order to find secret hidden areas that house the prisoners as well as treasure from chests that can be used in village shops like currency. Within each stage there are three prisoners to find, and upon finding them, and finishing the stage by entering the BitStream at the end you'll get a "Perfect" notice as well as a crown on the map marker. Thus fully completing said stage. While on the map screen you'll also be able to zoom out (TRIANGLE), and access level areas more easily than you would if you were to backtrack across all the lines, and stage markers. This is very helpful for returning to the village to shop, and greet the newly released villagers. Keep in mind villagers do have some quotes worth readings, so don't miss out on that.

Certain rescued prisoners that you find along your way will rebuild their respective shop in the village hub area, and will sell you items from said shop that will make your trek through the more dangerous stages, and levels easier. There's an item merchant that sells single use items such as health refills, and prisoner/treasure finders. There's also a Blacksmith which will sell you more costly upgrades that will enhance your already improved upon abilities. In order to access the item boosts, or to assign upgrades in-game after having purchased them you'll have to press the "OPTIONS" button on your PS4 controller, and select the "Inventory" menu. This will definitely come in handy in the latter parts of the game where you go through the Swamp level, Cave level, and levels after that. One thing I need to mention is that on the eighth stage of each level you will encounter a boss fight in the traditional "Castlevania" sense of the meaning. By this I mean you will be facing off against a larger than life high-res boss creature that has a specific attack pattern. You must learn the attack pattern, and utilize your surroundings in order to successfully strike the boss enough times to kill it. Once you've done so you'll be gifted a PSN trophy for your first time success.

Also in the village, or town hub you'll find in place a billboard, or sign that showcases your various stats regarding game feats, and failures. The number of times you die are accounted for as well as your play time, enemies killed, and prisoners saved. As tiny as the kingdom you're a playing in may seem there is still a lot to do, and plenty to overcome as you fulfill the role of Pip the pixelated hero. Things get gradually more difficult as you progress, and with new abilities come new responsibilities (Spider-man theme song ensues!). Mastering Pip's adventure will definitely take skill, and all the prior Metroidvania know how that you can muster up. Just because it looks like a kid's game doesn't mean you won't be cussing as you play due to the challenging nature of the game. You will more than likely have repeat playthroughs due to seemingly careless mistakes. Luckily for you though there are save points in each stage that will keep you from having to start all the way back at the beginning. That, and the fact that the game automatically saves your progress in one of three dedicated "Legend of Zelda" like file boxes!

The Verdict ...

The "Adventures of Pip" was, in my mind one of the most creative takes on the retro Metroidvania platformers of old. It delivered in quality on all levels. It was fun, funny, challenging, filled with eye candy, and even had an amazing orchestrated soundtrack. Despite having to repeat certain areas multiple times, and cussing for it I never once got angry to a point that I wanted to give up. This is the type of gaming experience that makes you want to see it through to the end regardless of it's rinse & repeat nature. It is enchanting, and truly mesmerizing. I really like how Tic Toc Games applied the mechanics, and how genius the stage designs were. I never once ran into a problem during my playthrough, and that in itself is something most 'Triple A' developers can't boast about these days. I'm gonna have to say that the 'Adventures of Pip' is a "Must Buy!!!" for PS4 owners. You will definitely get your money's worth out of this indie!!! Don't miss out!!!

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