By Simon Moore on February 10, 2015 at 10:13am
We are stood in a pixelated tavern, a band not unlike the kind found in a certain mos eisley cantina play in the background. Before us stand eight heroes anxiously pacing back and forth waiting for the call to adventure and each one eager to prove their worth and survive in a world of random dungeons and random journeys. The pixel style is a popular one, a style that has a good following of fans with titles like “Gods Will Be Watching” and “Home” proving that you can have an engaging experience while retaining the charm of simple pixel animations. This style, chosen by The Bitfather, is one that aids what they have tried to capture in “Pixel Heroes – Byte & Magic” because it allows them to have fun with the game and show a lighter quirky side to dungeon delving.
We first meet Damaris, the plucky enchantress. As a child Damaris was chased by wolves into a dark forest giving her increased strength, but an abject dislike of dark forests, although she is perfectly at home in a dark dungeon … an interesting childhood to say the least. Next in line is Pete the Ranger who, as a child, fell into an intelligence potion naturally increasing this stat. Pete, however, has nightmares of dancing at a church at night. Don’t even get me started on his sworn enemies the sheep…
This is how the experience of “Pixel Heroes – Byte & Magic” will begin each time you start a new game. You have a selection of heroes in the local tavern to choose from, each coming with their own background that somewhat explains the why and who of their characters. These procedurally generated characters can be vastly different with each play through, the nature of the game itself allowing you to build a party of specialists or all-rounders. Take Damaris, although an enchantress by trade she’s also good for dishing out damage in melee thanks to her increased strength and health. With ability to increase stats when levelling you can take this little enchantress and turn her into a whirling dervish of destruction should you choose to focus on certain traits. That being said, the backgrounds affect each characters personal stats and abilities much in the same way most procedurally generated games do in that it’s fairly arbitrary with a dash of flavor text.
So we’ve selected our heroes, and we’ve bumped into our quest giver who explains that they need a book, a book that will help them pass the upcoming wizards exam, and no, it’s not cheating so I’m told. We’ve browsed the town checking out the local temple, the blacksmith, and the trader, and we are now heading out into the wider world of pixel adventure and pixel danger. A map appears in the corner of our screen showing us the distance to the dungeon. Fear not, though, we’ll make it there without having to worry about food or rest, but along the road … we’ll find danger. That danger arrives in the form of random encounters. You’ll occasionally come across an NPC or some quirky piece of scenery allowing your heroes to stop and interact. Four choices will be your options with each presenting a different outcome. What did Damaris, Pete and Stabby the dwarf warrior discover on their journey for the great book of cheat? …A lost puppy. Not so bad right? We get the options to kill, ignore, shout at, or pet the dog. Simple enough choices depending on what kind of person you are. I choose to pet the dog … or what I thought was a dog. Seconds later, a popup tells me that the ground has begun to rumble, and a giant worm burst out of the ground. The cute little dog I wanted to pet sitting at the end of its antenna, a lure to those who can’t resist a puppy.
The combat mechanics are simple. Everyone lines up on the screen, both heroes and enemies, and you select the hero you want to attack, pick an ability or a basic attack, and see how much damage you do. The enemy takes their turn, and you repeat with the next of your heroes. There appears to be no initiative order as could be expected from a dungeon crawler; it’s just your turn/their turn. It is, however, a nice, easy rinse and repeat combat system and one whose only restrictions lay with the cool down on abilities and the simple fact that a hero has to wait a turn before acting again. So you won’t have to think long and hard fighting with the mechanics. It’s easily possible to do a whole fight using just two or your three characters. Whether that is a wise decision is entirely up to you. Your skill will come in how you chose to setup the party before you left on your adventures and when and who you use your special abilities on. Its risk versus reward, particularly when you’re in a dungeon, because abilities don’t reset with each new fight. If it takes five turns for a cool down to expire, then it's five turns in combat. So, we’ve slain the monstrous dog worm creature, and we’ve discovered a nearby stash of loot. Armour, weapons, spell books, gold and healing potions are our gains, the latter becoming increasingly important as we travel the game world.
Weapons and armor have the potential to increase certain stats such as defense, dexterity, and strength just like any good adventuring game. Some even come with a penalty to wearing them. However, whether intentional or not armor and weapons are not unique to characters nor to classes. If you want your enchantress covered head to toe in the heaviest armor you can find, there is nothing limiting her from doing so. Again, due to the procedural nature of this game, item names and appearance are arbitrary, and all you really care about is what stat is getting an increase and how it will help you survive for longer. The spell books will provide you with, you guessed it … spells, which anyone can cast. It’s not class-specific, which can be a benefit, but for some purists, will remove part of the fantasy. So for now, Damaris, enchantress extraordinaire has a new AOE (Area of Effect) poison spell, and Pete the Ranger has a small healing spell along with a new bow that’s giving him a mighty +3 to his total damage. A great feature in “Pixel Heroes – Byte & Magic” is that you can see the increase/decrease in your damage so you can somewhat maximize your gains by mix and matching armor and equipment.
Damaris and Co. eventually reach the dungeon without further incident, and the party finds itself before 10 deadly rooms, each one harboring a group of enemies ready to take their lives. The first passes easily as a ghost, and two skeletons fall beneath the combined might of magic, arrows, and blade. They get the chance to visit the inventory again, checking out the loot that had just been acquired and taking a hearty swig of a health potion which the party discovered was the only real sure fire way of healing a large portion of damage at once. Pete the Ranger looked sad, as his +3 healing book was becoming less and less useful. The second room, shockingly, would provide the toughest test … a golem, a ghost, and a haunted painting blocking the path forward. Misfortune would strike, and Stabby the dwarf warrior would be carried off the pixel heaven by the pixel grim reaper whilst Damaris struck the final blow, sending the haunted painting into the abyss. Seven rooms would come and go, each getting more difficult but none as deadly as the second, the memory of Stabby the dwarf weighing heavy on the others. The final room, the boss, the last great struggle was within reach and with its defeat victory would be achieved. Pete died following a rather unfortunate critical blast of fire that took ¾ of his life, and Damaris was left fending for herself. This turned out to be something she couldn’t handle as she cast poison … on herself … dealing the final blow and robbing the boss of the last laugh. Whether this moment of panicked suicide was pre-programmed or some quirk of misfortune was difficult to tell, but it made for an interesting finish.
Herein lies the problem with”Pixel Heroes – Byte & Magic.” Everything is a bit too random. From the collection of items, the gathering of heroes and the enemies faced, it’s really just a matter of luck. That isn’t to say the randomness detracts from the game, far from it. In fact as generally no two playthroughs will ever be the same. It’s more that the challenge lies in beating the system rather than the game. It’s fun to have a combat-focused party, but if you can’t kill your enemies quick enough, you’ll struggle to heal back the damage you receive. And if magic is your thing, without someone standing in front ready to take the damage, you won’t survive very long. Part of the problem I experienced whilst playing was that although I could see what the enemies were called and what abilities they were doing, it was only when I was the target of these powers. There appeared to be no way of seeing how much health your opponents than just hitting them until they eventually died and you could move on.
This is easily a game you can pick up and play on multiple occasions without putting too much thought into it. Don’t worry about how well you are doing or how far you’re going to get. It’s a game designed to be fun and humorous, a light-hearted approach to the normally dark and brooding dungeon crawlers that are coming back into gaming fashion. Its charming visuals compliment the style, so don’t be expecting a serious and thought provoking journey. Instead enjoy it for what it is. A quick romp through a land of monsters, dungeons, and heroes.