One of the first PC games I ever played was a roguelike called ZZT. It was comprised entirely of ANSI characters, so there were no real "graphics," as everything was text based. The Atari era was very simplistic in a similar way, often utilizing singular color schemes for backgrounds, with very little detail due to the nature of technical limitations at the time. Pixa [$0.99] attempts to recreate said era with a touch-screen interface, and the results are extremely mixed -- mostly dependant on how fondly you remember the old school days.

Pixa is an adventure game pure and simple, with an oddball set of twists attached. The story involves an abusive mother, a protective neighboring father, and a whole lot of insane dialog that feels like a modern day saturday morning cartoon. The script is billed as "witty," and I'd be inclined to agree -- I really wasn't sure what would happen next -- including an attempted interlude with the neighbor's daughter.

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The style doesn't just capture the Atari 2600 at a base level though, as a lot of effort was made to recapture the entire feel. From the scanlines to the rounded corners to the deliberately faded colors at points, Pixa isn't just made this way to save a development budget -- it was made by clear fans of the era.

Like any adventure game the focus is on exploration, which you'll do by simply swiping towards the edge of the screen that you want to move to. Pixa responds to both small and broad swipes, which allows you to strategically slingshot your way across the screen or just inch forward. For an unassuming adventure game with minimalist visuals, I wasn't expecting such a precise and easy to use control scheme.

Your task is to roam around the world and collect trophies, which you can bring back to your home, only to have your mother continually call you a useless idiot. The first couple of levels are basically free passes as they only consist of several rooms, but after a few trophies you'll collect coins to buy upgrades for your character, and the levels themselves get much larger and more confusing. They're also randomly generated.

Combat takes place by way of a rhythm based minigame, where you have to time swipes to a beat. It's true to the simple nature of the game, and doesn't take the focus off the real core principle -- exploration. But despite how true it may be to the era, it does take a little while to really ramp up, and may lose those who didn't grow up with an Atari. Pixa's biggest fault is that it is very slow to start, and sometimes, progress can be impeded by the occasional glitch (most notably the ability to lose items in walls).

If you can deal with dated visuals and some slow-going adventure conventions, Pixa will definitely do a good job of holding your attention for some time. It doesn't have IAP, and it even has a special surprise for those who nab all 24 standard trophies, ensuring a hefty amount of replay value. This is a retro homage done right, and not just for the sake of being retro.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Retro Nug

    Totally love this game. Glad to finally see a review on TA! I grew up on Adventure for the 2600!

  • collider

    Hey Chris, great to see you review this. I got it the second it hit the App Store, adventure was by far my favorite Atari game when I was young.
    The glitch you mention at the end (losing items behind walls) is recreated from the original (liberal use of the "reset" button in those days). As you move up levels in Pixa you can find a magnet to grab lost items, and you can take the magnet between levels via the slots (you can buy more slots to hold more items with the in game currency). The slots and special items were a great addition, they add some complexity, but still keep the feel of the original.
    Definitely one of my favorites to come out this year.

  • Glorkbot

    Yay! I bought it the day it came out. I enjoyed very briefly being at the top of the leaderboards, but that didn't last. Love this game. Personally, I've never lost an item in a wall.

  • Hypocrypha

    Clearly one of my favorite overlooked games.

  • Hypocrypha

    Ok I just read the article. Again thanks, better late than never, and as someone who played this as a child and was all excited waiting for Space Invaders and then PAC Man to be released with like 90 variants each, this and TANKS was a daily staple. It is correct that things SHOULD be able to get stuck in walls. What's the fun takin that aspect out? And "rhythm game" combat??? What??? I killed all the dragons without doin any rhythm crap. Do to go ruining it for me, or I'll tell mother!

  • gmattergames

    Not surprised this was overlooked, it's appeal is really limted. Regardless, Superb remake of the classic. Now, if someone would kindly remake my favorite 2600 game, Venture, (Activision I think), I'd be all over that one too. It was actually a standup arcade game prior to the 2600 port, but the Atari version was still a blast.

    • Glorkbot

      Venture was great. But definitely not by Activision. The original arcade game was by Exidy, and it was ported to the Atari 2600 by Coleco, I think. But definitely not activision! I don't think Activision did any arcade ports.

      • Montgomery Gabrys

        Correct - although many of Activision's titles were 'inspired' by arcade play (of the day) none of them were licensed properties.

      • gmattergames

        Colleco that's right, name you don't hear much anymore.

  • RAMnn

    I love this game

  • db2

    ZZT is fantastic, and everybody really owes it to themselves to play at least the original adventures, if not dabble with custom-made worlds (the editor is extremely intuitive). But it definitely has no business being called a roguelike. Also, I am totally in love with Pixa so far.

  • Armor Games Inc

    Thanks for the great article. 🙂

pixa Reviewed by Chris Carter on . Rating: 4