When Scott Pilgrim vs. the World hit XBLA and PSN, gamers who fondly remembered the days of River City Ransom rejoiced. Here was a beat ‘em up that very much followed in that 8-bit classic’s footsteps. While there are plenty of games that fall into the same genre, few employed the same RPG/world exploration mechanics that River City Ransom did, which rather amazes me as a co-op fan as it’s a great formula. Imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled across Can’t Strafe Right Studios’ Dead Pixels, a co-op game that employs the same RPG/world exploration mechanics in a shooter format with everyone’s favorite enemies: zombies.
From the very start of Dead Pixels, you get a pretty good idea of what’s coming. A pixelated “Our Feature Presentation” intro screen - a screen that will be familiar to any Tarantino fan - greets you after the usual XBLIG/developer splash screens. What makes this particular screen stand out, aside from the pop culture nod, is the film grain effect used. While Left 4 Dead’s film grain gave the illusion of viewing the events of the game at a modern cinema, Dead Pixels' film grain opts for the cigarette burns and screen tears exactly like old 35mm reels. All of this clearly points towards a developer that knows his source material and expertly sets the atmosphere for the rest of the game before it has even begun.
The actual story of Dead Pixels centers around you (and potentially your buddy) as the lone survivor(s) in a city that’s experiencing a little bit of a zombie outbreak thanks to some chemical waste that’s dumped into the water supply. There’s a chopper waiting 20 streets away to take you to safety, and all you’ve got to do is get there – through seemingly unending zombie infested streets with an always dwindling supply of ammunition. As I mentioned, CSR Studios really knew the type of atmosphere they wanted to create for this game. By the time you clear the first five or six streets, each zombie you come across becomes a matter of “is that one really worth the bullets?” Given the random swarms that start to appear with greater frequency around the seventh and eighth streets, I can tell you that no, it isn’t. The game’s controls are rather ingenious in their simplicity. The left stick moves your character around, as expected, but instead of firing with the right stick, the left and right triggers send hot lead in the corresponding direction. The d-pad is used to change weapons around, and both of these control mechanics gives the game a little more of a comfortable “modern shooter” feel to it.
As you blast your way through the zombie horde to reach rescue, you’ll search abandoned buildings for any valuables, guns, or ammo that might have been left behind, marking searched buildings with red “X”s to let you know where you’ve been. All of those unneeded/unwanted goods can be sold at trader shops for better guns, more ammo (you can never have enough), and even upgrades to your character. You can also save your game’s progress at these shops so completing the whole game in one sitting isn’t necessary.
When a second player joins in on the action, odds balance out a little more in the players’ favor as twice as many guns means you’re less likely to find yourself running out of ammo at a critical moment. While this advantage certainly makes co-op appealing, Dead Pixels doesn’t treat the second player as just another source of ammo and guns. He or she is free to upgrade the character however he or she sees fit, and when both players explore a building, both players receive their own “loot.” Should one of the players succumb to the zombie onslaught, he or she will find new life at the next trader shop the surviving player is able to reach. These little touches go a long way towards making the co-op in Dead Pixels feel like a more complete experience than what you might expect from a game that only costs $1. The only hitch, and it’s a relatively small one, is that the second player’s character is saved with the first player’s overall progress, so the second player won’t be able to face the hordes on his or her own.
Dead Pixels' co-op offerings don’t end there, however. The developer has promised that for each major sales landmark reached, they will develop and release (for free) additional modes for the game. The first (4,000) and second (10,000) landmarks have already been reached as of this writing and a new mode called “The Solution” is in the works, with another called “The Last Stand” not far behind that. So, for $1, you’re not only getting a great co-op game, but you’re actively contributing to additional content for it. It’s win-win all around… except for the zombies. For the co-op enthusiasts out there that have been searching for an extremely satisfying couch co-op game to play with a friend, I can without any hesitation or reservation whole-heartedly recommend Dead Pixels as a must buy.
The Co-Op Experience: Partner with a friend locally as you shoot your way through the zombie horde to try and reach salvation; each player can equip and upgrade however he or she sees fit, but overall progress is saved to first player’s account only
Dead Pixel is Geared Towards: Co-op gamers. Really. There’s not any set audience with this one. It’s $1 and entirely fun. So stop reading my words here and go buy it