REVIEW: Pixel Ripped 1978 (PSVR2)

Monday, June 26th, 2023

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Pixel Ripped 1978
Title Pixel Ripped 1978
Developer ARVORE Immersive Experiences
Publisher Atari, Inc.
Release Date June 15th, 2023
Genre VR, Action Adventure, First-Person
Platform PlayStation VR2, Meta Quest 2, SteamVR
Age Rating Teen
Official Website

Nostalgia has been an undeniable force in gaming over the last decade, if not longer, with a slew of remakes, remasters, and re-releases gracing modern consoles and PC. Few have captured what it was like to actually be a gamer back in the early days of the medium, however. Enter Pixel Ripped, and more specifically its latest entry, 1978, which lets players immerse themselves not only in the shoes of someone playing games back in the old days, but also being in the game.

Back in 2020, I got to play a bit of Pixel Ripped 1995, and the premise of 1978 is more of the same and then some. Where in 1995 you simply had to contend with distractions from those around you, in 1978 you get to both play the game and be inside it. Let’s run it down. You play as Barbara “Bug” Rivers, the creator of Pixel Ripped. The villain of the series, Cyblin Lord, is once again causing havoc, and this time he’s targeting Bug herself by traveling through time to steal her “inspiration” so that she makes a video game with him as the hero instead of the actual hero, Dot. It’s your job as Dot to chase him through time and rescue the “inspiration crystals” so that Bug creates Pixel Ripped and not whatever it is Cyblin Lord wants.

Pixel Ripped 1978

As the player, you control Bug while she literally sits and plays the game that you’re playing (i.e.: if you move the analogue stick on your controller, Dot will move in the corresponding direction inside the game). Using the PSVR2 controllers, you “hold” the Atari joystick in Bug’s hands – and also let it go in order to deal with the assortment of distractions Bug deals with throughout her day. As a game developer, she has to contend with her coworkers asking her questions; fielding phone calls from a “who’s who” list of developers, reviewers and notable persons of video game history; debug games for her colleagues; and swap between external programs that affect the game you’re currently playing. For instance, you’re given a floppy disk that turns your “shoot” mechanic into a “dance” mechanic while playing through Fast Freddie, and part of the level has you needing to let go of the joystick in order to insert and remove the floppy from Bug’s development computer. The game you’re playing does not stop, however, so you need to time releasing the joystick to moments when Dot isn’t in danger of dying. (This is surprisingly difficult to explain in text, but incredibly intuitive and easy to pick up in execution.)

Pixel Ripped 1978

Separate but related to this are “in-game” sequences where you actually play as Dot. These are presented as first-person shooter sections where you traverse the game world to handle obstacles and open paths that were blocked while playing during the “real world” sequences. The FPS sections are complete 3D worlds you roam around freely, shooting enemies, whacking open treasure chests, finding secret items, and solving relatively simple puzzles, such as shooting three targets to open a door. During these FPS sequences, you’ll learn new abilities that help you navigate the world, which in turn open new paths for Bug to explore while she’s playing the game. Swapping between the “real world” and “in-game” sequences are required to complete each level, so that you can battle Cyblin Lord in extravagant boss battle sequences that are inventive takes on classic games from Atari’s library.

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Using Atari’s library is one of Pixel Ripped 1978’s most brilliant aspects. I mentioned nostalgia before, and part of what gives this game the leg up on the competition is that you get to play around in actual Atari IPs through the majority of your time. The three main levels are based on Crystal Castles, Fast Freddie, and Yar’s Revenge, but you’ll also see an assortment of other classics. It’s really neat to get to be in classic games, or to see the actual layout of Atari’s offices. The way 1978 recreates distinct time periods for parts of the game are also a massive nostalgia hit, but the game doesn’t rely on that nostalgia to be good, either. It’s a genuinely fun romp through video game history with solid mechanics and level design, as well as a memorable soundtrack to keep you company as you explore.

Pixel Ripped 1978

As with most VR games, you may have to contend with VR sickness or tracking issues. Whenever the game wanted me to throw something, it was hit or miss if it actually registered me moving my arm, and I unfortunately got VR sickness and was forced to play shorter sessions. Thankfully, the game clocks in around 10 hours, so shorter sessions didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the game. My favorite sequences were definitely the “real world” ones, particularly when I had to debug a game for a colleague. This meant playing the game, “slapping” the monitor, and then swiping at the bugs that literally flew out of it. You have to let go of the Atari controller to either swat them out of the sky or throw something at them, and doing that while also playing the game you’re debugging is just a lot of hectic fun. Having that sort of dual play is something I cannot see being done as effectively outside of a VR setup, and is one of the strengths of Pixel Ripped being a VR title. Having that sense of immersion – of playing a game and also being hassled, much like I remember when I was a kid and even now that I’m a grown ass adult with my own child – traditional gaming has yet to capture that feeling the way VR does, and nothing does it better in my experience than Pixel Ripped.

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Pixel Ripped 1978 is technically the third game in the series, but can easily be played without having played the other games. It’s fun, intuitive and a nice trip down memory lane, especially for those of us who grew up in the early days of gaming. It’s available on PSVR2, Meta Quest 2, and SteamVR, and well worth the $24.99 USD.

Review Score
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About Leah McDonald

Leah's been playing video games since her brother first bought an Atari back in the 1980s and has no plans to stop playing anytime soon. She enjoys almost every genre of game, with some of her favourites being Final Fantasy Tactics, Shadow of the Colossus, Suikoden II and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Leah lives on the East Coast with her husband and son. You can follow Leah over on Twitter @GamingBricaBrac