Adventures of Pip
System(s):PC (Wii U)
Release Date: June 4, 2015
Publisher (Developer): TicToc Games (TicToc Games)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for fantasy violence
Independent developers have become joined at the hip with 2D platformers in recent years. It’s no great surprise, really. When you’re short on manpower and shorter on budget, it makes sense to work within an inherently small-scale, limited format. But while 2D platformers are unquestionably simple, almost formulized at this point, they do carry their own demands. It’s something of a paradox: the profoundly approachable genre is saturated to the brim, so while seemingly anyone can take a stab at it, they have to do quite a lot in order to stand out. Like the games themselves, the genre is easy to play but hard to master.
This is the sticking point with TicToc Games’ Adventures of Pip, ironically one of the most unadventurous 2D platformers I’ve ever seen: it doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself. Platforming on a flat plane, bopping enemies on the head and jumping like the floor is lava, is the white noise of creativity. It’s the zombies in shooters, the fixed-camera encounters with stage-smashing goliaths in hack-and-slash games, the adjustable lasers of puzzle games. On its own, it’s nothing—nothing special and nothing particularly fun. Creators have to apply these longstanding mechanics, well, creatively to raise any eyebrows. And Adventures of Pip never really does.
The game is shameless in its reliance on tropes. You play the unlikely hero Pip, a brown-haired boy in a red shirt—amusingly enough, the exact type of character I drew in primary school—who’s on a quest to save a kidnapped princess. A princess kidnapped by the infinitely imaginative Skeleton Queen, no less. The visuals are 32-bit and the soundtrack is primarily chiptune. Bosses take three bops on the head and your health is measured in three hearts. It’s like playing a template, some by-the-books precursor to the Super Nintendo era. Adventures of Pip‘s only ounce of bite is in its knowingly fourth wall-breaking focus on pixels. The wealthiest citizens of the game’s kingdom are decked out in 32 whole bits, but common villagers more closely resemble the work of an Atari Jaguar, a something-bit figure requiring no small amount of effort and eye-squinting to interpret. Some people are even a single pixel, Pip included.
Would you kindly
This is where the Adventure of Pip‘s core mechanic is based. By absorbing the pixels of defeated enemies, Pip can change between three forms, each an Evoland-esque advancement in mechanics and aesthetics. At his simplest, Pip is a red square capable only of moving, jumping, and gliding by flattening himself out. Pick up some pixels and he’ll manifest as an 8-bit character who can grip onto and jump off walls and attack horizontally and downward. Finally, 32-bit Pip gains a sword with a considerably wider attack radius that can also destroy certain blocks, but loses the ability to bounce on pads and climb walls.
Interestingly, each of Pip’s evolutions carry noticeably different weight. Evidently, pixels are much lighter on their feet than knights. Who knew? As a result, Pip controls differently, becoming slower and more grounded as he ascends the pixel hierarchy. However, Pip’s health isn’t tied to his evolution. Which is fortunate since you can also downgrade forms at any time, and often must in order to break certain blocks with the resulting explosion, slip into a narrow tunnel or climb up walls. Contrastingly, you may only go up a rank by defeating specific enemies.
This is where Adventures of Pip starts to unravel. I haven’t seen hand-holding this extreme since the arm wrestling world championships. More often than not, levels outright require one of Pip’s three forms, meaning there’s no choice in how you progress. This would be fine if the solutions to puzzle and platforming obstacles weren’t glaringly obvious and extremely easy. If the previous room required single-pixel-Pip and the current room is filled with pixel-packed enemies and curiously close walls, there’s no thinking to be done. The limitations on Pip’s upgrades are the real pinecone in the fruit salad: seeing an upgrade-spawning enemy is a red flag that you have to change forms. Unlike an ordinary enemy which might also be the key to progression, these pixelated enemies are walking instruction manuals.
Despite its three distinct forms, Adventures of Pip is about as organic as an iPhone. Every last detail is laid out for you, rendering levels little more than escalators toward arbitrary goals. Games will inevitably take the reins away from players at times, but the best do so in a way that still requires thought and rewards ingenuity. Adventures of Pip treats gameplay like it treats the tutorial of its imprecise (and, on PC, incredibly poorly mapped—K to jump?) controls. The game has no faith in its players and feels compelled to spoon feed them everything. 32-bit Pip can break blocks with his sword, but did I mention the blocks have a sword printed on them? And you can bet a respawning upgrade will be sitting in plain sight right in front of them.
Limiting players’ options is one thing, but telling them what to do is quite another. It’s the difference between having two of five paths available and having a red line on the ground leading through the correct one. Solutions cannot be obvious and easy, at least not all the time. If they are, players will lose interest in no seconds flat, as I did with Pip and his princess. Adventures of Pip feels like it was made for children under the age of 10. Given TicToc’s track record, it’s possible it was. But for a game on the Steam storefront, it’s just not up to snuff.
A review copy was provided for this review.