Here at Player2Reviews we have played and reviewed many retro-style games. After all, it is quite a popular niche in the videogame industry and a lot of older gamers enjoy playing things that remind them of the time when they first picked up a controller. Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic is one such game. Coming all the way from Germany via a small 3-man team of devs that go by the name of The Bitfather, Pixel Heroes is a retro-themed RPG/Roguelike that strives to bring us back to the olden days of pixelated adventuring while delivering a truckload of crazy humor and plenty of pop culture references. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!? Pixel Heroes aims to fix that.
There are a total of 3 slightly different campaigns to play, Pools of Radiance, Fear and Loathing in Pixton and lastly, Stairway to Hell. Pixel Heroes is a very difficult game; you may have noticed the first campaign is listed as hard. The second and third are Brutal and Insane, respectively. Only the first campaign is available to start with; the other become available when you complete the one that precedes it. Each campaign has a unique story to begin with and a unique boss at the end. Other than that mostly everything else is randomly generated. The flow of the game is pretty easy to break down. You start off in the main hub known as the town of Pixton. You have a variety of places here to prepare your heroes for the dungeon: a blacksmith for equipment, a library for magic tomes, a tavern that doesn’t really have much use at all, a perpetually closed casino, and a temple for buying potions and reviving heroes. There are a few quirky NPCs running around that offer you a quest. Once you accept a quest you exit the town end up on the world map. Be warned; once you leave the town you cannot go back until the dungeon is cleared. This means that you will not be able to revive a hero if one should die. Your team automatically heads toward the dungeon mentioned in the quest, encountering a bunch of random events on the way. These events often require you to make a choice and can either reward you or thrust you into a battle. These events are where the game’s goofy brand of humor really shines, as the encounters can get pretty ridiculous. A perfect example is when my group ran into a troll. He demanded a toll for every pair of legs that crossed his land so I choose an option where my heroes tried to walk on their hands and pretend they didn’t have legs. The troll looked surprised and said “Well, I guess I’ll reward you for your creativity. You may pass.” Once you get to the dungeon, you have 7 rooms to clear before the final boss room. Each room consists of one battle, though sometimes you’ll run into a room that contains a challenge instead. These challenges consist of choosing a hero with the highest stat required to pass the test. For example; choosing a hero with the highest dexterity to make it past some pointy obstacles and grab the treasure. Failing these stat checks cause quite a bit of damage to the character. Once a dungeon is cleared by defeating its boss, you begin the journey back to town with more random encounters along the way. Once you clear 7 quests, you begin the final quest of the campaign, culminating in the final boss fight. This arrangement can feel a little monotonous after a while, particularly when you’re replaying the game for the 10th time.
But what is an adventure without the daring, dashing heroes? First off, you must choose 3 heroes to fill up your party. After choosing a campaign from the main menu, you head to the tavern to select your party (of course the heroes are at the tavern, where else would they be? Bunch of alcoholics, the whole lot of ‘em!). There is a random selection of heroes hanging about, from the various classes that are unlocked and available to you in the beginning. Each class has their own unique set of skills and starting stats. If you don’t like what you see, you can reroll up to 5 times for a different selection of heroes. I like that whenever you level up, you gain points to spend on boosting whatever stat you want to, allowing you to customize them as you please. There are 30 different hero classes total, many which require you to complete some hidden requirement or achievement to unlock. The Brewmaster, for example, requires you to drink 100 beers at the tavern. Shouldn’t be a problem for a drunken... uh I mean, brave hero such as yourself! One of my favorite things about Pixel Heroes is a number of heroes and achievements to unlock, it gives the title a nice amount of replayability. Heroes don’t carry over from one campaign to the next. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It would have been nice to get to keep on using the characters I spent time leveling up, but on the bright side starting fresh encourages you to try out the bevy of classes available to you. Part of the fun is experimenting with the different classes to see what combinations work best in battle.
Speaking of battles, Pixel Heroes can be pretty challenging in that regard. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the basic campaign is set to hard difficulty. Once you are out in the wilds, you cannot return to town until the dungeon you are heading to is cleared out, and you have no way of reviving a hero while on the road. On top of all that, this game features permadeath. Not permadeath in the usual sense, where a killed character is gone forever. No sir that would be too easy. If all your heroes fall during the course of a quest, you don’t get to reload a prior savepoint. It’s straight to the graveyard for your heroes and you have to start the campaign all over again. Brutal. And when I say graveyard, I wasn’t trying to be poetic, I meant a literal graveyard. You can visit the graveyard from the main menu and check out the final resting place of your previous heroes while lamenting the poor choices you made that lead them here. Feel bad yet? You will once that graveyard starts filling up. The main reason battles are so difficult is due to the deadliness of the status effects enemies constantly try to inflict on you and the fact that you cannot use items to heal/remove effects like you normally would in most RPGs. In between battles you can use potions to heal up if you have some in your backpack, but the only way to heal up during battle is by having a character with a healing skill or magic tome. Therefore having a healer in the party is essential. There is plenty of loot to be found that have added status protection benefits on them. Paying attention to the type of status effects the enemies of a dungeon are capable of inflicting and equipping your party properly to counter them is much, much more important than simply equipping the pieces of gear that have the highest stats. The battles aren’t the typical turn-based kind either. Once you choose a character to attack, the enemy gets to choose one to attack. Your party members need a turn to rest so you can’t choose the same person twice in a row unless they are the last person alive. Weapons also have a range factor that determines the reach of the attack. The heroes and enemies stand in a single file line formation, so if your weapon only has a range of 1, that means you can only hit the person in the front row. These rules add a welcome strategic element to the battles and that helps Pixel Heroes differentiate itself from the rest of the retro-RPG crowd.
In terms of the retro graphic aesthetic and soundtrack, Pixel Heroes is right on point. Pixel Heroes looks like an old game and the soundtrack chugs along with all the appropriate beeps and boops of the 80’s. It isn’t the most exciting soundtrack I’ve ever heard, but it does feel in tune with the era. This game will be a mixed bag for some. It can be frustratingly difficult and unfair at times. You can be doing great and then all of a sudden get unlucky in battle, die and then have to start all over again. For me personally, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this game. I like the challenging difficulty. That is, until an enemy cheap shots me, my party wipes out and I get angry and shut the game off. The next day I’m loading up the game for another go. If you’re looking for a challenging game that will punch you in the back of the head when you aren’t looking, call you a buttercup and expect you to like it, then Pixel Heroes is the perfect choice. As for me, I’m going to try and beat the last campaign without losing a hero just so I can regain some of my pride back.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 7/10
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