Review - Pixld
Kim Swift is certainly a well-known name in the video game industry, at least to those who follow the puzzle genre. She is best known as the co-creator of Portal, one of the most beloved series in modern gaming. She followed that up with Quantum Conundrum, which was developed by Airtight Games. Quantum Conundrum received mostly positive reviews, but its similarities with Portal were overlooked by no one. This time around, they’re trying something completely different: a casual puzzler for iOS devices by the name of Pixld. Does it have the same creativity and brilliance as Swift’s previous two puzzle titles?
The graphics of Pixld can be summed up with a single word: blue. Almost everything, from the menu to the text to the blocks themselves, is neon blue. This does give a nice Tron-esque feel to it. However, seeing as the gameplay of Pixld is based entirely on squares of two colors, the decision to make those two colors rather similar (light blue and dark blue) is questionable.
There isn’t much to Pixld in the audio department, and what is there isn't impressive. The single track that plays during the entirety of the game is electronic pop, which is atmospheric and fun for the first few minutes. Soon, however, it starts to get very annoying. Luckily there’s an option to turn it off in the main menu. Sound effects, while being incredibly standard techno “bwoops”, are actually a nice addition to the gameplay. It’s oddly more satisfying each time you get a match because those stock sounds play.
Pixld has a very simple premise. You are given a 5x5 grid of squares called pixels. Tapping one of these pixels will change it from light blue to dark blue and vice versa, as well as the color of all of those around it. Matching up sets of same-colored pixels gets you points as more pixels fall in to take their places. There are occasionally special pixels that give double points, extra time, etc. The problem with Pixld is also quite simple: its gameplay is fundamentally broken. On one hand, it is incredibly challenging. On the other, it is unbelievably easy. The latter hand is much more prevalent.
Like I said before, you tap on a pixel to change its color as well as the color of those around it. This is a very deceptively complex concept. Touching on a pixel changes four to nine pixels, depending on where that pixel is. It is incredibly difficult to wrap your head around what effects all of those pixels will have on their surroundings, so thinking through how to exactly make that perfect match you’re imagining is very difficult. It is clear that this was the game the developer was hoping to make: a unique, simple-looking puzzler that is actually a real challenge. In reality, this is sadly not the case.
The same things that make Pixld difficult, bizarrely, also make it the easiest, most mindless puzzle game I have ever played. Because each tap changes a significant chunk of the pixels on the board, and there are only two colors, it is fairly rare that you don’t cause something to match up with just a few random taps. In fact, the vast majority of the points you get will be on accident. I started out in endless mode so I would be able to get a grasp of how the game wants you to think. At first, I was deliberately thinking through each of my actions, but after only a few minutes, I was randomly tapping and getting far more points. There is simply no incentive to try. With only one of the game modes directly penalizing a non-match, tapping randomly on the screen is not only infinitely easier, it is a much faster way to score points, making it the best strategy. That isn’t a puzzle game, that’s a glorified version of a bubble wrap-popping app.
I should admit that if you are extremely dedicated, you can focus on learning the strategy of the game and get a higher score than is possible by simply tapping. A quick glance at the leaderboards will show a few dozen people who are doing just that. However, I strongly doubt that any casual player will care enough to get that far. Even so, no game should allow blind luck to beat everyone but top-rate players. It’s like a racing game that has easy-to-spot shortcuts in every single track. Could you practice for hours upon hours and get good enough to beat everyone without using those shortcuts? Yes, you could, but what’s the point?
Pixld offers a decent amount of replay incentive on paper (by that, I mean if we ignore the broken core gameplay). It gives you five game modes, which are justifiably differed enough to warrant their own modes. It also has good GameCenter integration, offering a separate leaderboard for each mode, though my scores were occasionally not displayed properly for a couple hours. It’s unfortunate that you won’t want to try out all of the game modes or compete in the leaderboards since the game’s fundamentals are so defective.
In conclusion, Pixld just wasn’t thought through. It isn’t a bad game in the traditional sense, it fully and flawlessly delivers on its concept, but that concept is an absolute failure. It is baffling and confounding to see it get such positive reviews on iTunes when it so utterly defeats itself. Unless you need an excuse to continuously tap on your phone’s screen for minutes at a time, stay away from this one.
|Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of ScrewAttack.com. A cynic and aspiring film editor, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening DX, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.|