Pixel Fox is a throwback arcade shooter from Prize Studios, which is similar to Gradius and was made for one of the many various gaming jams that indie gamers more or less use as practice and as an opportunity to show off their work to the public. It’s very much in the same category as a demo or split EP release, just in gaming terms. A close friend of mine worked on the programming, while others worked on the art and music fronts. As far as the game’s “story” goes, your girlfriend was kidnapped by Gold and it’s your job to roll through a couple of levels and Gold’s henchmen in order to get her back. The player goes through three main stages (Space, Ocean and City respectively) before facing Gold in an undisclosed area (but I’m assuming it’s somewhere in the city.) Each of the stages feel like they were made on an Atari 2600, replete with a well-crafted soundtrack that feels almost like that of the original Nintendo. There’s no doubt that the composer is absolutely fantastic at what he does, although I wish we could have heard more of his work on a slightly larger scale. Aside from the insanely difficult, yet intriguing McDonald’s bonus level, we’re fronted with a very short and easily finished product that offers little replay value in an unlockable mode of the game that serves to make the game more difficult. Even so, it’s definitely twenty minutes or so that you will not find a waste.
You see, Pixel Fox begins as any normal shmup with a lone spacecraft defending itself against hordes of enemy ships. The player can shoot a beam to destroy them as in any other shooter since Space Invaders, but choosing to play in a more defensive manner results in the replenishment of life. This is an unprecedented feature, which can be a lifesaver at times, especially when faced with the expert level patterns utilized by the majority of bosses in the game. It’s here that my friend truly got a chance to shine, and if this is any indication as to what he’s capable of as far as programming AI, then we’re due for some very taxing challenges in the future. While the background layouts are quite basic (with the exception of McDonald’s and the city) Pixel Fox is a game that isn’t concerned so much with complexity in graphics as it is complexity in game play. Let’s take a look once again at those boss patterns, as most of the meat in this digital patty lies right within these four (I’ve never been able to get to the McDonald’s boss, so you can tell me about that fight) rather tricky boss battles. The first boss uses a sort of plow (that’s Mr.Plow to you) and finds his way off screen in an effort to plow right into your engine and possibly through the ship, if you’re not careful. Either he’s drunk, or just plain mad, but you’ll be kept on your toes throughout the remainder of the fight. The next boss is a sea serpent of sorts, who apparently mistook your ship as a sort of flying fish and seems to have been confused into chasing it. It expels several droplets of water into the air (all of which can be very damaging) as it attempts to sink its teeth into your ship as it darts off the screen, in much the same way as Mr. Plow, but with more ferocity, especially after you’ve made it angry. The third boss is a giant ship very reminiscent of Gradius, and it’s quite easy to beat, although its blasts can be rather damaging. Gold also seeks to challenge you throughout all stages as well as the finale. No, I’m not going to spoil that battle for you either.
Though I’ve touched upon the chiptunes used in the game’s soundtrack, I was quite upset by the developer’s choice of music for the final stage. It is apparently a hip hop song by the name of “Bottom’s Up” which does manage to fit the theme of the game (especially in the first few lyric lines) but doesn’t utilize the wonderful chiptune score featured throughout the rest of the game. I would have very much liked to hear the same song performed with a chiptune backing similar to the “Space Jam” remix utilized in the Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden RPG from Tales of Games. But let’s be easy on this effort, because for what it is, it’s definitely intriguing and offers up a real sense of promise for this developer as a whole. It’s a storyline not common in the shmup genre, with a look that feels admittedly very close to a professional project. I’ve no doubt in my mind that the next adventure, whether it be in the skies or firmly on the ground, will be well worth waiting for.
As a side note, there are a few things that I think would be interesting in a successor to the Pixel Fox series. Aside from more levels, it might also be interesting to feature the game in a 2.5D style, while still keeping its classic look and feel. Additionally, since this is Pixel Fox, I’d like to see the inclusion of more pixel related sub-weapon pickups. It would also be interesting to customize your own pixel’s design and color. A multiplayer mode would be a great thing, even though I’d prefer local Co-Op to what the rest of the online world rather see as netplay. As far as a story point, I thought it might be interesting if the main character and his girlfriend got into a fight and then she leaves him to begin crafting an armada of her own from the knowledge she obtained while being kidnapped by Gold. It might even be more interesting if she was a complete psycho and forced Gold to do her bidding against his will. The player might even get the opportunity to team up with Gold later in the game as a support character in order to literally save the galaxy from this admittedly crazy bitch, who now wants to destroy everything. But those are just a few ideas. As of yet, there are absolutely NO PLANS to create a sequel to the game.
Pixel Fox is a short little game developed for a jam competition, but it manages to forecast great things from these developers, no matter where they decide to pool their talents to in the future. Definitely play through it and let me know what you think. Even if that’s telepathically.
Playability/Fun Factor: 8/10
Replay Value: 7/10