They Bleed Pixels ReviewJoe Shaffer
Within the hallways of Lafcadio Academy for Trouble Young Girls dwells a mysterious teenager who's a frequents its library. There she discovers a peculiar text written in a cryptic language. Little does she suspect that the knowledge gained from this tome serves more to damn than to empower. For after reading passages of the hefty volume, she begins to have terrible lucid nightmares involving animate shadows, enormous saw blades, and gallons upon gallons of blood. At the epicenter of the killing spree stands the girl herself, her hands transformed into bloodstained claws. Behind her lays countless piles of demonic minions, put to death by her own disfigured anatomy.
They Bleed Pixels takes you into the heart of the nameless girl's nightmares, where you must run a gauntlet of 2D platformer traps whilst fighting off hordes of shadowy demons, beat 'em up style. Every blood-soaked inch of the campaign is designated either for avoiding a grisly fate--ranging from impalement on spikes to dismemberment from rotating blades--or forcing your opponents to suffer that fate for you. Sure, you could defeat your foes with brute force alone, executing them with a collection of devastating combos, but what's the fun in defeating your opponents with such vanilla methods? Instead of brawling them to death, you can kick them into a bed of spikes and watch their limp bodies slowly slide down the skewers. Even better than the spikes are the saw blades, which reduce demonic nuisances to meaty pulp.
Combat is not as easy as I'm making it sound, though. Some foes can preempt you, taking a chunk out of your girl before you can land the first blow. Others, like a certain octopus-like annoyance, fly around the screen and approach you from peculiar angles or rocket towards you at insane speeds. Patience and quick reflexes become your saviors in such situations. The experience becomes even more intense once the game sends numerous enemies your way. I recall one battle, for instance, that involved a few of the aforementioned flying octopuses and some shambling shadows. After minutes of leaping and sliding back and forth, waiting for openings all the while, I slowly whittled down my competition until all were toast. It was a drawn out conflict, but a challenging and heart-pounding one at that.
Each successful combo or utilization of environments to off your opponents fills a meter at the top of the screen. Once full, the meter allows you to create a checkpoint just about anywhere you wish. All you need to do is stand still and make sure there are no enemies or traps nearby, otherwise you won't be able to establish a checkpoint. It is nice having a system like this, as it allows you to set checkpoints wherever you see fit.
They Bleed Pixels is not your standard 2D brawler. Rather, the game plays more like Super Meat Boy (except with combat, of course). When you're not busy finding various ways to splatter your adversaries, you're usually jumping over seemingly impossible gaps in an effort to avoid various traps. The game throws some truly nasty obstacles your way too, including miles of spikes, moving platforms, and high-powered explosives. Some scenes also involve scaling walls, a la Mega Man X, or leaping off the sides of a handful of floating platforms.
As you advance, obstacle courses become surprisingly complex for a game with such simple mechanics. You'll regularly find yourself leaping from the side of one platform across a wide chasm to reach the side of another platform, all while attempting not to accidentally nail the spikes above you. In some cases, you might need to use combat skills to reach certain areas. There's one skill, for instance, that allows you to dart ninja-style across the screen, bypassing small pitfalls and cover ground more quickly. This is especially handy when dealing with timed doors, which tend to appear pretty frequently.
Don't get my above ravings wrong, though; I like the game, but it's far from perfect. For starters, the game's control response is a touch too sensitive. Although you can get used to the slippery mechanics, getting acclimated is still frustrating. Hell, even in the latter phases of the campaign I often leaped into spikes because I couldn't adequately control my character midair. On top of the irksome control response, the game's collision detection is sometimes questionable. Although it's spot on in terms of combat, there were numerous times when I'd collided with a wall in mid-jump and didn't instantly latch on. Instead I plummeted to my death and had to begin the whole sequence anew. More than anything in the game, this nearly inspired me to rage quit for good, even though I loved everything else.
The experience is definitely cathartic, though. Although the game boasts a strong difficulty that only the most masochistic of gamers can appreciate, it's somewhat soothing to kick your opponents upward into saw blades and watch their bloody pieces rain back down. It's also satisfying to complete a particularly tough platform sequence and dust your hands off. Never mind that it might take you over one hundred deaths to succeed, you'll still feel like a pro.
They Bleed Pixels is yet another platformer that provides you with an unlimited number of chances to succeed. I can't even begin to imagine if this game gave you finite lives--or worse, finite continues. As I see it, games this tough offer you infinite lives for a good reason. Developers know that games like this are addictive, they know you're going to be up all night trying to finish a particularly rough level, and they know you're going to keep telling yourself, "Just five more minutes!" for hours. An unlimited number of lives is an open invitation to play until you sink into a Lovecraftian level of madness. Of course, the game's collection of expertly built stages, boatloads of action, and messy killing skills help make it addictive as well.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.