STAFF REVIEW of Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic (Xbox One)

Friday, February 10, 2017.
by Brent Roberts

Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic Box art Have you ever found yourself playing a game that was so addictive that you found yourself getting absorbed by the repetition? Well if you haven't, then meet Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic from Headup Games. This game first came out back in October of 2014, and normally that would start to send up red flags as I tend to consider games like these to be cash grabs due to price points, age of their content, and more. This game though, priced at $9.99, has a crafty way to snag that crisp $10 bill from your wallet and we will get into that latter, but first, the game.

Right from the beginning you are enveloped by pixelated retro graphics that harken back before a time when those who would consider a PSone an antique were born. Now, I know that a lot of games have tried to embrace a retro vibe; however, quite a lot have gotten it wrong and I think it's because they used it for a scapegoat in development. Headup Games on the other hand actually flaunts it in your face and makes sure you realize that of course it's an easy scapegoat. There were times when my character got hit and they would comment, "even my blood is blocky!"

Before you adventure begins Pixel Heroes starts you off in a bar where you can tell the type of game you're about to get into as you read the humor in the character chat bubbles. It's here in the bar that the game will center its hub so to speak. This centralized area is where you can recruit up to three individual characters. Pixel Heroes relies on the whole "rock beats scissors" motive with certain elements and elemental weapons working well against specific types and so on.

Right from the beginning you'll be choosing your characters, which range from classes such as dwarves, knights and barbarians to herbalists (yes those kinds of herbs), witches, clerics, and more. Some will have high strength with physical attacks but weak with magic and vice versa. These are all tactics we are used to seeing in games; however, take note of strengths and weaknesses because you'll be back at the bar picking three more heroes again... and again... and again...

This is thanks to Pixel Heroes' uncanny ability to not only deliver a quality humorous experience, but the ability to openly mock and impersonate other people, movies, etc. as you wander through the paths to and from various dungeons. For instance, I was greeted by a black pixelated person wearing a black trench coat and black sunglasses who called himself Orpheous and offered me a choice to take a red pill, a blue pill, both, or I could ignore him.

Various choices you make will be either beneficial or detrimental to your party, and sometimes combat is the best choice because while you may risk taking damage, you'll also gain experience which you can use to level up, plus you can gain some gear while you're doing it. Should you ignore these events though, you'll head straight to your dungeon and start the 8 rooms that can either be a battle or test of character, and this is why I mentioned balance was so important.

You will come across chests in-game. These chests require certain levels of certain stats to open, so while one chest may require a high level of strength, another may require a high level of faith, and so on. Should your character fail in this task they will receive damage in the form of a trap that could essentially halve your full health instantly.

You may think that you're going to be ok because you have health potions, but I cannot stress enough how you need to save as many of these as you can early on because normally the only way to gain more is through combat. This is why I found a need to almost always run with a healer, as their skills will grant the ability needed to keep people alive without the need of a potion.

Now, back to the bar. So, you have your chosen three characters and the rest of the patrons at the bar leave and get all pissed off at you for not hiring them for whatever reason. After they depart in walks a pixelated crazy person wearing a sign that says the "End is Nigh!". This person foretells the doom lingering on the horizon, and after hearing his tale off your go into the village. Before you leave though, check out the band in the bar, simply called The Band.

This is where you accept your various quests. You can only select one quest at a time and the quest will take you to one of the dungeons on the map. The quests come from villagers with exclamation marks over their heads and are sold by the floating exclamation marks company who won't sell you any, but everyone else is fair game. Once you talk to a villager you'll get some sob tale of a book missing, or a ring that was lost, etc, and now you have to prepare yourself for the task ahead.

You start with 800 gold and when you see that 200 gold buys one low health potion, you quickly realize you're dead broke. There is a temple in the village where you can buy potions and resurrect your fallen heroes for a price should you need. Once your hero dies, they are dead and gone until either revived at the temple for cash or your entire party is wiped out and you're sent back to the bar to start over.

This quirky method of enforcing repetition through humor is something that dramatically helps stave off the mundane actions you will be repeating for as long as you play this. The gameplay is interesting as all heroes have weapons they can use, but they also have unique abilities which can either deal tremendous damage or aid your characters in a special way. Even the whole balance aspect can be found here, let me explain.

Let's say you get yourself a cleric, or other magic user, that has the ability to dispel any status effects (absolutely critical); however, you can gain these same immunities by equipping gear that makes you impervious to it. Do you use a character slot for a character to use that ability, or do you take your chances and try to gain equipment that will make you immune, thus allowing you to free up a character slot for something else? These are the balancing acts that will keep you going insane, but also enjoying every moment of the ride. When you do get into a fight, you'll notice it's strictly turn based. Not only is it turn based, but your 2nd turn can't involve the same character, so Pixel Heroes forces you to utilize at least two characters. Oh, and those abilities I told you about earlier, there's a cooldown period (in turns) in between uses, so use sparingly and as a last resort.

One gripe I do have is that the inventory is so small that you will quickly, and I mean very quickly, find yourself out of room, thus forcing you to trash a bunch of your gear. Because unlike Fallout 4, you can't move onto the next room if you are carrying any fraction of weight over 20. I wish there were merchants before bosses that allowed you to sell your unwanted items, but rest assured you'll be hating the inventory capacity almost after your 1st dungeon.

There are a lot of RPG elements built into this little indie game, but as I wasn't sure what to expect, and in the end I wound up actually enjoying this game quite a bit. I loved the roadside interactions and felt that the comical atmosphere made the game more enjoyable, and in the end that's one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, we play games in the first place, because we want to enjoy them. Sure, there are some faults with this game, it's a few years old, and the $10 price point may seem steep for the content you're getting. If you really enjoy retro styled pixelated games that cram RPG elements and humor into a mesmerizing mix that will result in you spending hours in trying to get everything just right, then this game is for you.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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