Review: Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic (PS4)

Review: Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac
  • iOS, Android

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
Title: Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic
Format: PSN (130.7 MB)
Release Date: June 15, 2017
Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: The Bitfather
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is a pretty simple game when broken down so I was not at all surprised to find that it’s a mobile game port. The basic gameplay involves picking some heroes and setting out on a journey to kill monsters. Like a lot of recent indie games, it pulls in a lot of popular themes: pixel graphics, roguelike mechanics, etc. The overall package is decent and though I had some problems with a few aspects, it’s an alright time waster.

The game starts out in a tavern with a handful of heroes milling about. These heroes are a random subset of the couple dozen premade heroes in the game. You’ll select three of these heroes to comprise your party. Once you do, the party gets to leave the tavern and select a quest to undertake before going out of town.

The first odd thing is that leaving town is a one-way trip. Once they leave, the party will keep going until they either defeat the boss at the destination or they all die. As the roguelike comparison suggests, if the party all dies the game ends completely and you’ll have to start over from where you pick heroes.

As the game funnels you to the dungeon, you’ll come across a few random events. This can range from things like finding Doctor Who asking for help to a monster chilling next to the road. These events usually give a few options. Most often one will start a fight while others could ignore the event completely.

In the dungeon, you’ll make your way through eight successive rooms, all of which are either a single fight or a treasure chest. Again, you’ll be funneled from room to room with no way to go back. The last room holds the boss who is the target of the quest. Only by downing the boss can the party return to town.

Once I got used to the structure of the game, which took a couple of runs, I started enjoying it. That is, except when I had to deal with the inventory system. Each encounter typically drops a few stat-randomized weapons, so you can slowly upgrade your characters, but navigating the inventory is an absolute pain.

The whole page is a kludge of information and seems like it was clearly designed for a touchscreen. There are a few handy shortcuts mapped to controller buttons, like being able to swap characters with shoulder buttons, but there’s still a lot of moving the cursor around to get around. And comparing a new weapon to the equipped weapon is a nightmare.

Combat is an easy turn-based system: the ally team takes a turn, the enemies take a turn, repeat, with the character who just acted being unable to act on that team’s next turn. Player characters can choose to use the weapon in either hand or one of their character-specific abilities, which recover over time. There are a lot of elemental considerations and status effects to keep the system from getting too dull but for the most part the combat is more serviceable than interesting.

Interestingly, you can’t see enemy health bars in combat. Instead, you get a vague idea of enemy health like “healthy” or “wounded.” And bosses don’t even give information on how wounded they are so it’s a complete crapshoot on how much damage they need to take. Normal enemies usually die in just a couple hits, even at the start of the game, but bosses can be pretty difficult when there’s no way to gauge how much damage they still need to take to die.

Speaking of difficulty, there’s definitely a degree of it here. The first couple runs are more of a learning experience and it took me until my third run to even down a boss. The easiest difficulty is called “hard” and the random events that pop up can certainly make it that way. All it takes is one bad encounter to doom a run.

Unfortunately, this makes the game a little annoying. Runs are a tad too long for a game where they can be over with just a single mistake. Play the game enough and I’m sure you’ll have a good idea of which encounters to avoid and which are good for earning experience, but that’d probably take quite a few attempts.

There is one mechanic to allow some progression from run to run – the pool of heroes can be expanded. Certain optional tasks will unlock new heroes who can show up when starting a new run, which also offers some replayability. In fact, the title menu has a whole page of optional achievements, some tied to Trophies, and it helps track progression on them which is a nice touch.

Visuals:
Pixel Heroes of course uses pixel graphics, sticking to an art style that could be at home on consoles of the 80s or 90s. The game also has an odd presentation style, restricting the gameplay to a square resolution in the center of the screen with big black bars filling up the sides of the screen.

The art style is fine as far as pixel graphics go and it’s easy enough to determine what things are supposed to be. That said, it hardly lives up to some of the more amazing pixel art games available, both those actually from the sprite era or the more current throwback games.

Audio:
Again to harken back to older games, the audio consists primarily of blips and boops strung together to make music. What’s there is good enough to avoid becoming tired or annoying after an hour long session though it’s certainly not going to win any awards.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
There are some fun aspects of Pixel Heroes. After the first few learning runs, I was enjoying the game a fair amount. Sadly though, it didn’t hold that level of enjoyment very long. After a couple more encounters with some strong foes to end a run and general frustration at the inventory I found myself losing interest rapidly.

For a game that’s relatively cheap, there’s probably enough to justify giving it a shot and actually getting through the game would certainly feel like an accomplishment if I could do it. Though without much of a story to keep me engaged, or any persistent mechanics besides the unlockable characters, I was having trouble convincing myself to start it up again after dying.

In hindsight, the whole experience feels more like filler, something to pass the time which is more suited to a phone than a console game. It’s alright at doing that for those who feel like they need a filler between games, though there are much better ways to spend time on the PS4 than a generic phone port.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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