Get ready gang its time for another zombie apocalypse and this time, Dead Pixels brings guns and strategy to a belt scrolling beat em up that has you alone or with a friend for some local cooperative action. You walk through through the streets, gunning down randomized waves of zombies and using currency they drop to purchase weapons, upgrades and ammunition. The ammunition is life, because each street crescendos with thicker waves of zombies so they can overwhelm you.
On the surface, Dead Pixels looks like a blend between a pixelated throw back to the late 80s and a grind house cinema with its intentional film grain. It even starts like an old movie complete with the countdown of 4, 3, 2, 1 and now for our feature presentation. Both of which alienate it from its 8-bit style. In the game it looks like a cross between old school retro themed charm and cheap with its red lines painted on walls.
The objective is to make your way through dozens of streets to the end in three campaigns. There are unimpressive boss fights here and there. They tend to feel like standard enemies that look special. The issue with the bosses is that they take damage and draw in other zombies to attack you. Every so often you get a change of scenery, but its a long wait before you see something different.
Your character moves a tad bit faster than zombies and you can still dodge them in even great numbers, but the screen can fill with the green undead. Even after you’ve cleared an area, if you backtrack, there will always be more zombies waiting for you so you need to pick a direction and stick with it.
Shooting zombies in the face looks good, but its a step down from the diversity of beating people up with punches, kicks and fancy moves. That’s why this game fits in more with strategy than a cold beat’em up. The brawler genre wears thin on me after a short while and that’s why so many of them are short. Dead Pixels with its three campaigns is a good long game.
Even with guns, its a tough game, but any game that requires you to grind for more cash in order to upgrade will always be an uphill battle. You need to use strategy to determine if a zombie is worth the ammunition spent killing it. Weapons have penetration, damage, firing speed and range. They come in three types: rifles, shotguns and short range that fire quick, but do small damage.
The controls are set up beautiful and it recommends to use a controller. Left trigger and bumper to shoot or throw a projectile to the left and the right trigger and bumper to do the same thing to the right. This allows you to run left while shooting right. The left stick controls, the directional pad switches between weapons, items and throwables. Otherwise, you can hop in the menu to select something.
As you go through the game, you’ll encounter a lot of doors, most of which have been spray painted over to mark that there’s nothing inside. Other doors you can enter to collect random loot. Searching these areas is like looting a treasure chest. With everything that you collect, it increases your weight and in some rare cases, you can become over encumbered and move slower. To counteract this, you need to go into the menu and start dropping things and its always guns that have the most weight. Once something is dropped, its gone for good. Its always good to have only the best weapon for each type of bullet. Otherwise you can quick change to something weak and suffer wasted ammunition.
For everything extra that you have, there are shops about one per street that you can sell to. These shops have a lot of depth. They offer things for you to buy, sell you upgrades, save your game and they even want specific things that they’re willing to pay big money for. If you have something they want, sell it to them. If you find it later, it will only cost more ammunition to go back and sell it to them.
So why is ammunition so valuable? You can find it in rooms, but other than that, you need to buy it and the problem is that once you buy it, then its gone. You need to keep pushing forward to find more ammunition and stores that sell it. That’s why its best to have a weapon for each of the three types of ammunition. Sure you can melee enemies, but you can die trying too. Its best to keep zombies as far away as possible.
If you have big money, buy upgrades. They come in the form of more maximum health, more weapon damage, more melee damage, more luck, more speed, better bargaining at shops and more strength to carry more. I recommend better bargaining over everything else. Then more weapons to keep enemies at bay. After you’ve upgraded yourself into a supreme being, you can take out eight zombies with a single shotgun blast and become all powerful, yet still succumb to a lack of ammunition.
The game offers a diverse array of zombies with different characteristics. Standard zombies will get alert and give quicker pace. Elderly zombies that are slower. Smaller zombies that spot you from far away and charge at you. These are the ones that you’ll need to shoot rather than dodge. Spitters launch a stream of green glowing goo. Soldiers can take a lot of damage and so on. They’re all divvied out slow so you need to wade through a lot of streets before the game starts to ramp up the diversity.
In terms of cash and fun, you can get a kill combo going. The problem is you still need to collect the cash… before it disappears. So taking down a flood of enemies becomes meaningless if you never charge in risking your health for the coin. If you’re at the top or bottom of the screen zombies can pin you, and they wait for others to hurt you. There’s no way to shoot them, because you can only shoot left and right rather than north or south.
There are plenty of med kits to restore your health. Some zombies drop antidotes to poison. Adrenaline makes you go faster. You’ll get grenades and incendiaries to light a pack of zombies on fire. Fire crackers can be thrown to distract the enemies if you ever need to, but its just easier to walk around the undead.
Dying kicks you back to the main menu where you can either load a save for an auto save of the street you were on. It would have streamlined things just to have you chose rather than kicking you back to a menu. With a game that can box you in, its good to have a save in addition to your auto save. Since enemies are randomized there’s always still a chance you’ll make it through no matter how the odds are stacked.
Dead Pixels is well worth its dirt cheap price, even if you take a risk on a game that’s a grind. There’s a lot here, but its slow progress.