Retro Platform Heaven

Like any astronaut who’s about to star in a videogame, Commander Andrew “Pixman” Blazkowicz has run smack dab into a den of aliens, and they don’t take kindly to pesky Earthlings rummaging around their home. Thankfully Commander Pixman (Out Now, $0.99 Sale) remembered to pack his raygun and spring-loaded jumping shoes, making his adventure ripe ground for a fun retro platformer.

If Retromite’s RobotRiot felt like a time warp back to 1991, you might guess that Pixman feels like a trip to 1981 judging from the screenshots. This is true only in terms of graphics; Pixman’s level design transcends its presentational simplicity, taking the preferences of the modern mobile gamer well into account. Pixman’s levels are both bite-sized and appreciably complex — which should seem like an oxymoron on paper, but One Minute Games pulls it off handily.

No matter how far you dive into Pixman, it serves up bursts of logistical challenge meant to be completed in under one minute. Packed into these brief spans are land mines that must be strategically cleared before forging ahead; harrowing runs through timed mashers and laser gates; all sorts of daredevil jumps over spikes; blocks that crumble beneath the hero’s feet; and all the above while something’s shooting at him. That describes only the first few dozen levels — plenty more surprises are in store for the player over the long haul of its 80 levels. While the final, successful run through a level will last a few tens of seconds, the player can expect to accumulate many unsuccessful attempts before then. The failed tries are worth something, at least: the player is treated to a neat instant replay of all attempts presented in tandem once a level is finally complete.

Pixman doesn’t appear to integrate third-party leaderboards at the moment, instead tracking the player’s performance internally. In addition to its 65 “normal” levels, challenge levels become available as the player meets certain requirements — perhaps completing a specific level in under thirteen seconds, collecting keys, or attaining a minimum number of performance-awarded stars.

Like RobotRiot – ironically released on the same day – Pixman rides on excellent level design without carrying the depth that the very best genre classics of the late 1980s and early 1990s had to offer. If you’re a longtime genre fan, you know the ones — they made the player economize on resources or manage differently balanced characters on top of the platforming action. This issue is endemic in the App Store’s platform offerings after all, and Pixman is certainly on par for the $1.99 price tier thanks to the sheer weight of its level set.

Pixman’s controls definitely work in its favor, as most of its virtual buttons have significantly larger activation areas than their visible size would imply — a most critical detail for devs of action games to remember. On that note, the activation area of the mid-level pause button could use some expanding though. The game’s jump physics are something of an acquired taste. Pixman’s leap seems to accelerate the longer the player holds the jump button; it takes a bit of a learning curve to get used to, but I found that the player’s control over jump height ultimately works to his or her benefit inside the game’s spike-laden corridors.

On the unquestionable downside is lack of an ability to pan the screen down and see what lies at the end of long drops — chances are it isn’t good, and Pixman will have to give up his little life a few times before the player learns how to avoid it. What I desperately want to see in updates is an ability to pan around by swiping at the touchscreen. While free-falls into the unknown can be avoided in levels with branching pathways, there are a few that spring unfair surprises. Good thing Pixman has unlimited lives!

I must give a shout-out to Norrin Radd’s chiptune-inspired tracks, which pull a lot of emotion and jazzy melodies out of simple sounds. Pixman cycles through only four tracks, which is a shame given how many levels are on offer, but they’re all on par with the best game music the late 80s had to offer, in my humble opinion.

Whether you sit down for long, multi-level sessions or play it in tiny chunks, Pixman should provide four to five hours of platforming challenge before all its content is exhausted.

iFanzine Verdict: Commander Pixman serves up tons of nerve-wracking fun for fans of challenging platformers. Some functionality for seeing what lies ahead could improve this one in updates, but as it stands this is a title of great interest to any genre fan who’s looking for something that can be played in short spurts.

[xrr rating=4/5]