Pixel Ripped 1978 review — Nostalgia meets VR

Nostalgia for retro gaming is at an all-time high, which has led to a slew of games attempting to tap into the undying love many gamers hold for classic titles. While some of these games are legitimate love letters to the days of yore, others come off as blatant cash grabs. So where on that scale does Pixel Ripped 1978, the latest in a trilogy of retro inspired VR titles, fall?

While I have my issues with Pixel Ripped 1978, I can safely say that it feels as if it was made for retro gamers by retro gamers, and thus at least avoids the pitfalls that stem from games which often strive for the retro aesthetic but never feel authentic. That said, like its retro forefathers, there are quite a few frustrating gameplay choices which make what is otherwise a creative and enjoyable romp through gaming history a bit of a slog to complete.

Having never played previous entries in the Pixel Ripped series, I had next to no idea what I was stepping into when I donned the VR headset and dove into this retro-fueled world for the first time. The story begins during a time of relative peace with our hero, Dot, having defeated the evil mastermind Cyblin Lord one year prior. Unfortunately, things quickly deteriorate when Master, Dot’s friend and guide, appears informing Dot that Cyblin Lord is back and hacking games starring Dot to remove her and place himself in as the protagonist instead. The world erupts into chaos and forces Dot to travel from the gaming world to the real world via an outside gamer, in this case Barbara “Bug” Rivers, an accomplished Atari programmer. Dot and Bug must work to vanquish Cyblin Lord by bouncing between the real world and the game world to unlock new routes and abilities, find key items, and solve puzzles.

The main gimmick of the game is bouncing between the two worlds, which remains enjoyable, even when the gameplay in either world isn’t always engaging. As Bug, you attempt to work your way through Dot’s adventure on an Atari console, hopping into the gaming world whenever you reach a point which prevents you from progressing. In the gaming world, you then explore, fight enemies, and solve simple puzzles to unlock new pathways in Bug’s version of the game. After which you then hop back into Bug’s shoes to continue your progress. This gameplay loop makes up nearly the entirety of Pixel Ripped 1978, and is relatively fun, if a bit shallow.

I had hoped that as Dot I would get to adventure through countless Atari classics, but instead you are only allowed to inhabit retro-inspired titles created for this game, while occasionally playing snippets of Atari based classics as Bug In the real world. While charming and quite fun to explore at first, the allure quickly fades as you become accustomed to the VR world. It doesn’t help that these worlds mostly involve fighting enemies using a weak gun, breaking open crates and barriers with your melee weapons, and completing a few simple puzzles while offering up little else to do. A late game level based around a board game is a stand out though, and makes great use of VR and is genuinely exciting.

There are some funny NPCs to meet and a few off the path things to do, such as starting a war with chickens and upsetting their bewildered owner, but each area is still rather barebones. As you progress you will gain a few additional abilities, such as creating objects from pixels, the ability to debug issues, and a way to open new pathways. All three are welcome additions, serving to liven up the levels and add a bit of much appreciated complexity to the proceedings. For those who love to scour every inch of a virtual world, you’re in luck, as Pixel Ripped 1978 has 40 hidden gaming cartridges and 14 hidden melee weapons, providing an incentive to explore.

Despite my gripes, there are a few moments where the game shines, such as the aforementioned D&D inspired level and the boss fights, which are incredibly inventive. Boss fights occur in a pseudo 2D/3D way and take place in Bug’s memories, overlapping with what she remembers and forcing players to use all of their VR skills to survive. Each boss battle feels like it takes place inside a classic Atari game and has Bug controlling a character on a 2D plane, which is laid out over Bug’s real world rather than seen on a TV screen like the other titles Bug plays, while throwing items or swiping at enemies in 3D using Bug’s free hand. Though these can be hard, they never really teeter into frustrating territory, instead remaining just challenging enough to give you a workout and be enjoyable.

Half the game takes place at Bug’s desk in her office at Atari headquarters, and is unfortunately dragged down by an overabundance of phone calls, constant interruptions by your co-workers, and minor glitches which often add unnecessary frustration, especially when attempting to figure out what the game wants you to do next. While playing as Bug you will work on completing both your game and debugging games for a coworker, after which she grants you new moves to use in your game. This would be a fun loop If not for the constant calls and visiting co-workers repeating the same few lines continuously. I’d rather everybody ignore me after they run out of lines to say, leaving me to solve the puzzles at hand without any further interruption. Worsening matters was the floppy disc or other items I needed sometimes disappearing or landing somewhere I could not reach, forcing me to restart as I needed them to progress.

Despite sometimes being distracting, I did genuinely enjoy both the phone calls and co-workers at first. Seeing them wander around, be goofy, ask for help, and joke around was charming for a while and I am glad they are included. I just wish that more had been done with them once their small pool of lines and scenarios ran out.

I may have been a bit harsh on this game, but it is only because I truly wanted to love it. If I had not had such high hopes then I may not have been so disappointed, but as it is, Pixel Ripped 1978 is a fun, albeit short and flawed, VR game with a ton of potential that unfortunately remains untapped. Still, it’s worth picking up and playing through, especially since the last level and lead up to the ending are both fantastic.

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Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. While he enjoys modern gaming, he is a retro gamer at heart, having been raised on a steady diet of Contra, Mario, and Dragon's Lair.  Chat with him via @thricetheartist on Twitter.



Pixel Ripped 1978

Review Guidelines

Pixel Ripped 1978 is a fun, albeit short and flawed VR game that leans into nostalgia and gamers’ love for Atari, but unfortunately does little with the plethora of great Atari IPs available. Still, the concept is unique, the boss fights are creative, and the last third of the game makes up for the rather lackluster beginning. For those with a strong sense of nostalgia, Pixel Ripped 1978 is worth checking out, but for those with no connection to the Atari time period your enjoyment may vary.

Richard Allen

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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