Adventures of Pip (PC) review
"Lean close and I’ll tell you a story about a game that doesn’t know what its players need."
I really tried, but Pip’s pixelated world comes across as nothing more than collect-a-thon drudgery to me. The premise is 100% charm and inventiveness, but it’s just too much for one little feller to manage. It even checks off the boxes: The introduction is concise, the is tutorial woven humorously into the story and it all looks and sounds great, but... I just don’t want to rescue all those absurd villagers.
How could it have been so dull? An orchestral styled soundtrack sets a beautiful aural tone that offsets my ire at its punishing difficulty. Mostly. AoP oozes creativity, and as I ponder, I begin to realize what bothered me so much about it. Lean close and I’ll tell you a story about a game that doesn’t know what its players need. It’s a fantasy tale, because nothing that horrible happens for real.
First off, you’re a pixel. No, really. You’re an oversized red block that can jump and glide. It’s a neat little mechanic that allows you to traverse dangerous gaps. Second off, you’re awoken to a government examinable course in Princess Kidnapping and Kingdom Destruction. Here, I’ll give you a cheat sheet: The answers are: “You” and “Princess DeRezza.” When you figure out the questions, you pass.
Meanwhile, there’s a wrinkle in the routine: The villagers have all fled, and you’re supposed to rescue them all? Are you really? No one explicitly asks you to. You just enter the first level and meet some local yokel who says “thanks” and disappears. The trouble is, as a player you know you have to: There’s an indicator in the form of three icons where a villager will fit.
Oh goodie, a completionist platformer. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not generally a fan of collect-a-thons, but this implementation really shifts my pixels. TicToc Games has the audacity to apply the three star system to level unlocking. Sounds stupid, right? It means that you need to collect a fixed total of villagers or else levels won’t unlock.
When you encounter that in Super Mario Galaxy and Sonic Racing Transformed (sic), they have the sense to make most of the content accessible without requiring you to unlock everything. Basically, there’s a main path that requires fewer collectables, and then optional branches if you’re feeling brave. Not in AoP, no sir. It only takes a few levels for my disinterest to waddle away, drawing my attention toward something else.
Like writing this slightly snide review.
There’s enough personality and humour to make me want to give Pip’s quest a try, but the mechanics step in the way of what should be a careless romp. Pip doesn’t control as precisely as I would like: He’ll take a hit when a button press doesn’t register, and it happens often enough to cause me to doubt the controls altogether. That’s not good for a game that demands as much precision as this one does.
The mechanics are devilishly clever, and deserve a better game, but their complexity clashes with the this title’s lighthearted presentation. Pip, being a pixel, meets a deceased knight who endows him with the ability to evolve by jumping on glowing enemies. He can transform into a humanoid character, and thus can smack enemies and obstacles with his blocky fist. He can also wall jump, and presumably more that I really just can’t be bothered to discover.
Why? Playing hide and go seek with villagers for little to no reward paves the way for a very dull ride. Yes there’s an upgrade system, and even though everything drops currency – pixels – why are the items and upgrades so blitting expensive? I could spend hours farming pixels from enemies that respawn endlessly, but for a game that clearly isn’t going to be that long, why should I?
Another thing that was disappointing: Smashing a glowing enemy that walks bestows the humanoid upgrade, so why doesn’t Pip fly when he derezzes the one with wings? I can accept a difficulty curve, but this one is far too steep for its setting. At least TicToc provides halfway respawn markers for the times you die trying to navigate the branching paths of level design. Which, by the way, are too complex for their own good.
After breezing through the first level and obtaining a modicum of accomplishment, the second level brutally dashes all of your satisfaction against the wall. Into. Little. Pixels. A more graduated learning curve would have gone a long way to ingraining that ever elusive core motivation that is so essential to long haul fantasies like this one.
When you see Super Meat Boy get ripped to shreds by giant sawblades on all sides, you know what to expect when you play it. When you see Pip explode in a brightly coloured array of light, you think “why the blitting pixel am I doing this?” The equally morbid thought about the true nature of pixels and selling them for items and upgrades becomes a grim question when you entertain it, too.
TicToc Games clearly has some interesting ideas, but this Indie game needed some serious time with playtesters and dare I say the word, a publisher. This isn’t the first time a game has required the experience of people who know the industry far better than the creative talent does, and it won’t be the last. It really is too bad that Adventures of Pip is such a harsh mistress, because it all looks so very promising.
They’ve got some talent, undoubtedly, so perhaps they’d like to try again? Meanwhile, your adventure is most assuredly in another castle.
Community review by hastypixels (September 10, 2017)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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