One pixel to rule them all.
Imagine a bullethell game in which the player never shoots a single bullet. The upcoming indie game Pixel Galaxy—shown at Microsoft's pre-PAX ID@XBOX event—imagines such a scenario, and it shines in large part because of its unconventional premise. The goals remain the same—avoid getting shot at all costs. The way in which the game presents solutions to that goal differentiates the experience from other games in the tough-as-nails genre.
On the surface, Pixel Galaxy appears simple. In fact, the player ship starts as a single pixel, and enemies are also comprised of small pixels. Those enemies can become allies, though—at any point in the game, players can bump into enemies to collect them as a new exterior. Eventually that one small pixel becomes an intricate ship full of enemies. The enemies still shoot, but now they aid the player. There isn't even a shoot button—simply collect enemies and let them do all the work.
The only real controls to consider are the analog stick and bumpers. The former obviously moves the ship, while the latter buttons allow players to shift the ship's orientation a la Tetris blocks. The focus on constant shifting lets the ship withstand damage without immediate death. The enemies that make up the exterior of the ship can be destroyed, but that initial pixel needs to be protected in order to succeed.
All the while enemies constantly shoot bullets left and right, and the tension rises quickly. There's certainly a learning curve, and I struggled quite a bit in my first few moments with the game. Then I became accustomed to the unique flow of Pixel Galaxy and its emphasis on careful movement above all else. The assistance of a partner also helps, and the game includes local co-operative multiplayer. Once someone else joined me, we survived for multiple minutes and even defeated a few different bosses.
The arcade shooter experience is bolstered by an art style with eccentric colors and neon glows. It doesn't quite stand out like the soundtrack, though, which is the kind of fantastic, pulsating electronic music that improves player performance and enjoyment. There's just something about catchy synths and keyboards that helps with my coordination and reflexes. Pixel Galaxy is proof of that fact.
Typically bullethell games prove too difficult for me because I have trouble following everything on screen, and Pixel Galaxy doesn't necessarily move away from that formula. There are still a ton of bullets on screen, and I bumped into them far more than I'd like to admit. But the way in which the game finds a novel mechanic within the genre allows it create a broader appeal.
Pixel Galaxy is scheduled to come out next month on PC with a Xbox One release planned for February of next year.