Ana Ribeiro’s Pixel Ripped Challenges the Layers that VR Offers.
Disclaimer: The PAX East demo of this title was played with Oculus.
If you grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s, you probably remember hiding your Gameboy from your parents or teachers. Lying in bed under the covers. Hiding your hands under your desk. Heart stopping as footsteps near your door. Rushing to turn down the volume.
Now, our generation has the luxury of playing games whenever we want; yet, as terrifying as those moments of clandestine gameplay were, they also offer a strong feeling of nostalgia and accomplishment. Those are just some of the many nostalgic feelings VR (virtual reality) developer Anna Ribeiro is attempting to capture in the game Pixel Ripped 1989—a title that borrows heavily from the budding reincarnation of 80’s retro vibe. What’s even better, however, is that the game does not throw 80’s fandom in the player’s face. Rather than clichéd and languid references to Atari or Back to the Future it simply captures the aesthetic of the era in a way that blends both platforming and Inception. The colors, sayings, rooms, styles, music… they all scream retro.
You start off the game as Dot, the young protagonist in a game called Pixel Ripped. As you sit in a home playing your gaming system, the news flashes on the TV exclaiming the world is being taken over by an evil force. Suddenly the house begins to burn, and an unknown figure appears warning that the game is bleeding into the real world (hello, virtual reality). The figure sings the song of heroes we’ve all heard before: the protagonist is the one the world needs.
Flash to a classroom, where you play as a young girl named Nicola who is playing Pixel Ripped on her Gameboy. When you look around you see a boombox, desks, some students, and, eventually, a menacing teacher that lectures, turns to the board to write, and randomly walks around the room to assure students are on task. Your goal, as the young girl, is to successfully play the Gameboy without getting noticed by the teacher. Armed with a spitball contraption, you can interact with the environment around to try to distract the teacher from walking over to you—all while you also attempt to play the actual game in the Gameboy.
After a certain point, the Gameboy game begins to bleed into the classroom. Fire and enemies surround the room, an evil goblin appears, and a large 3-D platforming puzzle reminiscent of Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion is placed right in front of the player. Right as the situation looks dim, Dot appears in full form, prepared to combat the monster. Yet, as in any good heroic tale, the goblin flees, casting a spell on Dot that turns her into a pixelated square. To beat the level, the player must then control both the girl, who uses the spitball contraption to stun enemies and eliminate obstacles in the platforming route, and the 2-D hero, Dot, who moves through the platform itself. As Dot navigates that platform, she must also gather the square pixels along the pathways, which build her back up to her original form. The platform is full of school-room inspired obstacles that require timing with dodges, jumps, stuns, and strategic movement. Between controlling the young girl and Dot, it took me about six tries to succeed—so it’s safe to say despite the evoking of childhood nostalgia, the game will prove to be a challenge.
Overall, Pixel Ripped 1989 offers an extremely layered and innovative approach to what VR can do. The player plays a game within a game that eventually syndicates into a fun amalgamation of critical thinking and old-timey platforming. And it’s effective because we were all that young girl in the classroom, embracing the game. It’s effective because even now, students hide their cellphones with Fortnite Mobile under their desks. This nostalgia is for everyone. And really, with this type of format, Anna’s creativity for her next titles are boundless. Luckily, she is already planning to take advantage of that by exploring different time periods. For now, fans can be prepared to take on the evil goblin menace in May on Oculus and the HTC Vibe.