By Leah McDonald / August 3rd, 2020
I started gaming when I was about three or four years old back around 1985. I can remember sitting around the TV with my older brother playing Atari and the NES, taking turns as we tried beating an assortment of games. Oftentimes our parents would be about, my mother on the phone or my dad snoring in his chair, their various chitchat and sounds becoming a sort of background drone as I focused on whatever game I was playing at the time. Sometimes, they’d tell me to turn the game off; sometimes they’d turn it off for me. By 1995, the only change was that now we were playing on SNES, Genesis, and PlayStation. Never did I actually expect a video game experience to accurately capture the feeling of those halcyon days, but I’ll be damned if Pixel Ripped 1995 doesn’t come really close.
This clever PlayStation VR title by Brazilian developer ARVORE begins in the monochrome design of an old handheld. After taking a minute to look around the room I was in (that for some reason had a chicken just hanging out by a microwave), I lifted the PlayStation controller to see I was, indeed, holding a handheld game. “Dot presents” it reads as I control the tiny sprite on the screen, side-scrolling my way through a simple story about our heroine Dot as she defeats the evil Cyblin Lord and saves the day. Only the Cyblin Lord doesn’t stay dead and instead jumps out of the handheld and into our world, dissolving it into fragments.
At this point it’s worth noting that Pixel Ripped 1995 is actually the second game in a series that began with Pixel Ripped 1989 – a game I have not played. How closely this opening sequence aligns with that first game I can’t say, but it also didn’t impact my understanding or enjoyment of Pixel Ripped 1995 any.
So anyway, we pick back up in what appears to be a town, with a robed man calling himself our Master saying he’s fixed the time machine and discovered where in time the Cyblin Lord has disappeared. So we shoot the time machine (because of course), and head to the colorful world of 1995 and the era straddling 16- and 32-bit games. Rather than the 2D side-scrolling action of the handheld title I played in the opening, Dot’s world has expanded into a Link to the Past-esque open world, complete with towns, villagers who say nonsensical things, and free-roaming enemies to shoot on sight. There’s nothing particularly difficult about the game at this point, save one thing: The conceit of Pixel Ripped 1995 is that I am actually playing as a young boy named David, who is playing Dot’s adventures on a TV. I control Dot because he controls Dot, but I’m one step removed from the action. Everything Dot does is framed inside a literal television, and David’s overbearing mother and flighty father like to chatter endlessly while he tries to navigate through enemies to help Dot retrieve a macguffin to save her town. You also have to deal with a nosy neighborhood boy who insults your skills while talking to you from the window. It’s peak 1995 gaming.
I really liked the way the distractions are handled. Not only do the voices of the other characters often drown out the in-game music (which is actually really catchy), their dialogue literally covers the TV screen. At first I was sort of bothered by the fact the text is difficult to read thanks to the palette choice, but I think that’s sort of the point. It’s supposed to be distracting. It’s a neat effect and is the closest I’ve ever seen media come to recapturing those days when I would be playing a game only to have my parents drone on at me to “turn that thing off!” At one point, David’s mother actually does. Pixel Ripped has a fun way of handling this, though: Breaking the fourth wall. Not only has Dot purposely sought out David for his l33t gamer skillz ™, but her game literally sends a blaster into the “real world” for David to use. He shoots at some cookie jars and boxes to distract him mom whenever she threatens to make him stop playing, and it’s a clever way of juggling the difficulty by forcing you to pay attention to both Dot and David’s surroundings.
Level 1 ends with the Cyblin Lord tricking Dot into giving him the macguffin, which he uses to force himself, Dot, her Master and a giant bug monster into the real world, where David has to both control Dot and help her defeat the baddie by shooting at it with his blaster. It took me a couple tries to get this part down. In order to use David’s blaster, you have to hold the right trigger on the controller, but that means you can’t shoot Dot’s weapon, which is the only way to hurt the boss. I had to juggle running her around and shooting the bug while also picking up David’s blaster to shoot down obstacles. It ended up being more annoying than engaging, but it also didn’t last long.
The Cyblin Lord’s attack ended up breaking Dot’s game, making everything glitchy and broken. I actually laughed when I spotted a villager running around with a tree growing out of his head. The game has a nice sense of humor and a fun visual style that’s easy to get into. The game is also really snappy. Level 1 took me about 45 minutes to beat, and there’s only five levels. My biggest gripe is with the controller. Most PSVR games use the Move controllers, which feel much more comfortable when interacting with a virtual space. Using the regular controller made controlling Dot easier, but whenever the game asked me to grab hold of something (say, David’s blaster), it was uncomfortable and unwieldy. Movement in VR titles is something of a quandary right now and one of the biggest barriers I can see to creating really immersive experiences. Finding a nice balance between free roaming and comfortable controls that allow players to interact with the world at large is an ongoing effort, and one I’m really excited to see how developers tackle in the years to come.
Pixel Ripped 1995 was released on May 12, 2020, for the PlayStation VR for $19.99 USD. It is also available on the Oculus Rift and Steam.
ARVOREhands on impressionsPixel Ripped 1995playstation vrPSVRvirtual reality