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Pixilation vs. Pepsi Ranger
Pixilation
JSH357
Download: 122B
V.S.
Pepsi Ranger
Review # 12 for Pepsi Ranger
Them's Fightin' Words
    What really goes on inside our computers when we turn them on? Is it possible that we take for granted the fact that little synapses and bits of data are merely working for the greater good of the motherboard, like ants in an anthill? As we read our documents and play our games, do we think for a second that maybe there's more to the little components of information inside the CPU than just complex mathematics and mindless memory drones enslaved to signals and such? Usually not, but the world of Pixilation suggests that maybe there is more going on than we truly realize. Perhaps the tiny bits of memory that scurry in chaotic frenzy actually have minds of their own. Or it's possible that the bits may not have minds of their own, but the pixel graphics that we see before us do. Thus begins the story of Herbie, the little pixel that could.

The purpose of the story is mostly unclear, or so the characters tell the player as he or she progresses through the game. The main point that is made clear is the fact that pixels are stupid. We're not talking about graphical screw-ups or malfunctions here. I mean pixels are dumb creatures. If you talk to one, it'll respond by saying something like "LOLOLOLOLOL," to name one of many things. And Herbie knows this well. He doesn't know why specifically, except that he's probably the only smart pixel in his entire pixilated village. But, as Herbie decides to do his pixilating thing, Sahara, the mayor of his town, who he didn't even realize had existed, summons him for a mission. He goes into the mayor's office, probably thinking about cute Internet girls or a really nice CD-ROM drive because his world would be really boring otherwise, completely surprised by the revelation that Pixel City has an authority figure. But, when he actually stops to talk to the mayor (a pixel of female gender because what pixel is sexless?), he comes to the conclusion that he's not the only smart pixel around. Apparently, some pixels are born with RAM, which helps them speak as if they were intelligent beings with a conscience and everything. So naturally, Herbie is surprised by the revelation that he's not alone in his gift because it would be uncharacteristic of him to actually attempt to whittle out the one other pixel in his town who can speak articulately among the mind-numbing numbers of other pixels (all nine of them) who think "Gashyayaya," is conversation because to do so would go against his too-cool principles. So, with that, Sahara asks him to embark on a mission to go with her to find an "evil" pixel with RAM named Casey and vanquish her because deep down Sahara wants him to date her. After all, they know each other so well. Herbie reluctantly agrees to go and fight, just to find out later that there are other good and evil pixels out in the computer world, looking to either defend or conquer their right to live, before the computer's user shuts down for the night, ultimately killing all the stupid ones.

And that's the basic gist of the story. Sure, there's a struggle between good and evil inside this computer world, not to mention the drive to do something or other, but there isn't much else to go on. Herbie's actions are without direction, and events unfold without a real point. But, before we explore the negative side of the story development, it would be best to start with the positive.

First of all I would like to say that this author has guts to release a game like this. The game looks so utterly bland from a distance that to give it even a mere consideration to play would take a special effort. I'm sure the author had this in mind before he made it, probably confirmed it after he made it, and was still willing to release it anyway, possibly because maybe it would be considered an artform. And that's the way I would describe this game-an art. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's art in the sense of beauty and nobility, or anything like th at. I would rather compare it to art in the way that an independent film is considered art. Not a film that only comes off as independent and artistic because a studio had nothing to do with it, but rather a film that's artistic because it stars a balloon that floats across the country. A film like that would be risky and daring, and that's the way I see Pixilation. I'm not saying the art deserves two thumbs up like a movie about a balloon would undoubtedly earn, but the game's attempt at something different is pretty refreshing.

So, what's so refreshing about it? Let's be honest, the game has a story that is full of plotholes and graphics that look as if the title should be renamed "Notate RPG." In truth, the game's refreshing quality is limited to its risk factor. But, that's why I still admire the author's attempt to make it. That's also why it disappointed me so much when the story's creative backbone transformed into something shoddy and unrealistic-beyond the level that a story about living pixels should expect to have. And yes, there has to be a level of unrealism here because pixels are not sentient creatures with ambitions and dreams. If the game were realistic, it would be the equivalent to reading this review-boring and meaningless. But, the story's heart should still feel kind of realistic-giving the pixels a purpose, although they stay rooted in their character niche. What I mean by this is that the characters undoubtedly need an adventure, but not something that's driven by pure good or pure evil. Unfortunately, that's all Herbie and his pixel companions deal with. Every adventure and every battle happens without a reason. Even the ending has such a nothing-effect that I wonder why the story was written at all. I guess if the story stayed rooted in the true drama that it wanted to set up, instead of resorting to the quick and lazy way of story development where evil just happens for no reason and must be stopped, then I'd be completely supportive of it. But, as of now I feel that the story needs a lot more substance than it has, so my support is a little thin at this point.

What does that all mean exactly? Well, here's the bit-by-bit breakdown of why I think the story is so much weaker than what it could've been. Okay, maybe I won't touch everything because that would take too long, but I will talk about the two most important things. Reason number one deals primarily with the characters. Picture this-a pixel thinks and speaks like a person. All right, that's not such a horrible notion, since the player needs to identify with the character in some way. But, to bring back the issue of realism, I think total personification is a bad idea in a case like this. For instance, Herbie is mostly apathetic toward anything that happens in his world. If the evil pixels of the computer say they want to wipe out all the good ones, then that may be a problem, but Herbie could practically care less. So, as his apathy reveals itself in the conversation he has with Sahara about taking down Casey for whatever reason, Sahara suggests that he stops talking like Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 and go on over to the Green Link to take care of the threat at hand. Again, such a conversation between two pixels does not have to be a big deal, but the fact that their cultural references and attitudes are so much like a human's, even though it brings up another video game as its cultural source point, makes the characterization just a little too cheesy for it to deserve any real respect. I would rather that this game have dialogue that feels a little more technical and emotionless than something that takes cheap stabs at careless heroes. Or, if that's asking for too much, than it would be nice to at least start the character off as a technical type and subtly progress him into something a little more human. At least then the believability can be more evident. There is also the issue of plot problems, w hich are revealed from the very beginning, and are carried out to the very end. The plot element I speak of is the relationship between Herbie and Sahara. Frankly, I have no idea why Sahara wants to date him if there is no clear evidence that she even knows him. After all, he doesn't know her. Such an oversight wouldn't be quite so bad if it wasn't for the fact that the whole reason why Herbie is sent on his quest at all is because she wants to win his affections. This faulty foundation spells disaster for the rest of the game's story line.

The second point of the poor story development is directly linked to the characters themselves. First of all, I'm not yet ready to accept the fact that the pixels in my computer screen have genders. If the game wants to separate them as positives and negatives (like atomic particles), then so be it. But, if I'm led to believe that pixels can come together and reproduce new pixels (as a male and female anything can do), then I must have fallen asleep in my Computer Graphics class or never have taken it to begin with. Although, I will say that the idea of gender specific pixels is a neat idea, I will also say that I don't think it's firmly setup to be believable yet. So, the one place where this game can improve its credibility is to establish a backstory on how pixels inherited genders. The other problem I have with the characters is the notion that they became smart because they were born with RAM. First of all, why were they born with RAM? What makes those select few so special? Secondly, why is RAM responsible for making them smart? Is it proven that pixels are better when RAM is higher, or is it possible that one never has anything to do with the other? I'm probably an idiot, but I thought RAM has very little to do with pixels. According to the Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder (Dictionary), RAM is "internally stored software or data that is directly accessible, not requiring sequential search or reading." In light of this definition, I think using RAM as a reason for their ability to continue to live after the computer is shut down is more than justifiable, but I don't think it's good enough to make them intelligent. Perhaps a virus or artificial intelligence would be a bit more acceptable (in theory). Thirdly, why are pixels capable of good and evil? Since when did they inherit a sense of morality? I'm not ready to take every detail for granted yet.

Anyway, that's probably enough to speak of in regards to the story. As far as the graphics go, they are not the least bit pretty, but I will agree that they're acceptable. Granted, it is very easy to lose track of the character when he looks exactly like the townspixels and the scenery, but for a game about individual pixels (that are drawn as individual pixels), I really wouldn't expect anything fancy, nor should I want to. The fact of the matter is that the graphics are still a painful reminder that even the pretty ones must start out bland and individualized, and in a world where each pixel has their own identity, it would be asking for a total betrayal to the characters' world to expect anything attractive. Therefore, I really don't care that the graphics are of the most uninteresting quality since the Atari 2600. The only true problems I have with the graphics are that Herbie's red pixilated form blends in with certain maps (especially the Red Link), and that some enemy pixels blend in with the black backgrounds, making them near impossible to see.

The last point to mention is the gameplay involved. I really don't have a lot of problems with the gameplay since all the maps are so small, and that the pixel who refills palettes and kilobytes (HP and MP) can be found at the center of the game world for quick and easy access. I also appreciate the fact that healing items are very cheap to buy, considering that I had to use them quite frequently in battles. The only thing that I really have to complain about is that hero status (with the exception of HP and MP) only improves through equipment upgrades, which can make some battles quite frustrating to say the least. I wouldn't necessarily condone a major shift in status points for each level-up since that might make the game too easy, but at least one point is still better than none. Other than that, the gameplay is tolerable.

And that's about all I can think to say about this game. It's not terrible, despite my opinions on the story, but it could definitely use a tune up. It also needs a purpose. I don't think its uniqueness is enough to make it memorable, even though I'm glad a game like this was attempted.
Final Scores
Graphics: 1.5/10.0
It's true that the graphics are the worst that can be found on the OHR, but this game really doesn't demand anything fancy. To have good graphics would completely destroy the art behind this game, so bad graphics are actually in its favor. However, if the graphics must be good, then it would be better to have a background that looks like a computer chip, and pixels that are made up of several colorful pixels, making the characters look nothing like real pixels. But, frankly I'm glad it doesn't try to be something that it's not, so I'm giving a free point for the risk factor involved. The extra point is also being given because now I can play a game that looks like the musical staff to all those BAM files I can't compose very well. The additional half-point is given simply because the game has graphics.
Storyline: 3.5/10.0
I really like the potential that this game sets up, but I'm ultimately disappointed with its execution. The poor story development and the lazy and apathetic dialogue make the story completely uninteresting beyond what the player is tricked into imagining. I will say that the originality that's implied is still worth an extra point or two, but even originality must have something following it through, and this game fails at meeting such a need. Paying more attention to believable characterization can help the story unfold a lot nicer.
Gameplay: 8/10.0
For all that's irritating about this game, the gameplay is not among the list. The only true fault that brings the score for this category down is the fact that most statuses don't improve at level-up, which makes battling a chore after awhile. I also think Laguna, the end boss, is way too hard compared to the bosses that are fought beforehand. Other than that, I'd say it's pretty impressive.
Music: 4.5/10.0
I think the music is pretty good for the sake of easy listening, but I really don't think the choices are appropriate for this game. Believe it or not, the music sounds too good to fit in the right way. I'd rather hear music that sounds broken or dry, just so it adapts well with the atmosphere that's been established. Sure, broken music would mean turning the sound off eventually, but having good music in a game like this just doesn't feel right. That's why the score is a little less than what it would normally deserve in any other game.
Overall Grade: D+
Final Thoughts
    Overall I think this game is really just a game. That means that the attempt to make it was noble, and I appreciate the risk involved in releasing it, but I'm really not so sure that it's likable. If I only had ten games to remember throughout the course of the coming year, this would more than likely not be on the list. However, for those who want to see something different, I would say go ahead and check it out, since story and graphics may not be such a big deal to everyone. However, I personally wouldn't recommend this one to anyone who has very little time or patience on his or her hands.  



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