Adventures of Pip

The indie game scene has gone through an interesting metamorphosis over its relatively short lifespan. When the movement started, the retro 8-bit/16-bit puzzle-platformer genre was almost a novel thing that preyed upon older gamers nostalgia, but the genre has become somewhat flooded over the years and now, when I use the aforementioned adjectives to describe a game to friends, I'm usually met with an exasperated sigh and the somewhat typical "Oh, another one of those?" response. Adventures of Pip is of that ilk, but its clever writing, solid gameplay, and overall charm makes it definitely worth looking into.

Adventures of Pip wears its inspirations on its sleeve. The hearts in the upper left hand corner of the screen to represent your health, a power-up for your sword that lets you shoot projectiles from it, (but only when you're at full health) and even the heart containers you're rewarded with for defeating bosses are all thinly veiled Legend of Zelda homages. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if done improperly, game references within games can come off as forced or cheap. Thankfully, Adventures of Pip pulls it off in a cute, self-aware way, thanks in part to its humorous, well written dialogue. The sound design overall is also worth mentioning; the music is lively and brisk and very reminiscent of older SNES games.

The story in Adventures of Pip stays true to the Mario/Zelda motif. Princess Adeline is kidnapped by Queen DeRezzia (yes, her name really is Queen DeRezzia) and it's up to you to do your princess saving duty. As familiar as this all may seem, Adventures of Pip sets itself apart with its main gameplay conceit. Pip starts out as a lone pixel in his quest. Apparently, Pip and other solitary pixel characters, are discriminated against by their more higher-rez counterparts. The dialogue uses this plot point in a lot of its jokes to great effect.  The characters themselves actually subvert their stereotypes and it's done in a tongue-in-cheek way that never feels forced. Princess Adeline becomes a spunky, sarcastic quip machine that never sounds or acts like a damsel in distress. Queen DeRezzia has some great one-liners and Pip... well he's actually just your silent hero archetype.  Most of the conversations had me smiling and I found myself outright laughing on a few occasions.  And the adorable lines are also matched by the games equally adorable art style.

Adventures of Pip does an interesting thing with its art design. Much like Pip, the backdrops start off pretty basic but eventually get more detailed as the game progresses. The level design is more of a function-over-form scenario as the levels themselves aren't much to look at. However, the level structure directly feeds into the swapping mechanic which at this games core.

The swapping ability basically lets Pip up his resolution from a single pixel to an 8- or 16-bit form. Each form comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. For example, single-pixel Pip can only kill enemies ala Mario stomping; however 8-bit Pip can punch and kick and his 16-bit form gains access to an oversized sword. These differences between forms also play into how you traverse each level. The strange thing about this mechanic is that being able to devolve is as simple as holding down a single button. But to evolve, you must kill certain enemies which are scattered throughout each level. Thankfully, they're commonplace enough that you should never find yourself stuck in a certain form with no way to evolve. The controls also feel tight and succinct. I never found myself blaming the game for any of my various deaths due to ill-timed jumps.

Even though I ended up with pennies in my eyes a few more times than I want to admit, Adventures of Pip manages its difficulty curve well. Even though I was dying quite a bit towards the end, it never felt unfair or tedious. In fact, I did get a little pang of accomplishment when I progressed past a bit that was giving me grief. Keeping with the NES/SNES callbacks, there are also plenty of hidden sections in each level that contain citizens to rescue or chests to open. And by hidden, I mean sections of seemingly solid wall that can be passed right through.

The one lingering problem I had with this game was that for as much as it accomplishes... it was kind of forgettable. After I was finished with Adventures of Pip I quickly forgot about it and moved on to something else; but that's not really a dig at the game.  I had a blast with it over my seven to eight hour adventure through its story. So don't be deceived by the somewhat tired "retro indie puzzle-platformer" description; Adventures of Pip sets itself apart from the nostalgia machine in some interesting ways and it's well worth your money.