HIGH Piloting a blob firing projectiles and swinging swords in all directions
LOW Playing chicken against bullet-pattern reload periods
WTF Enemies can be picked up, but bosses can't
It can be argued that there is no genre that balances the contradictory feelings of empowerment and desperate survival better than the bullet-hell shoot ‘em up.
Playing a shmup is a strange emotional journey—one moment I feel like the most powerful being in the galaxy, while simultaneously feeling like I've been just barely skirting horrible death time and time again. Shmups also bring with them an amazing sense of flow, and it's a hypnotic oneness with the screen that will be familiar to players of Geometry Wars and the spiritually-similar Super Hexagon.
Along the same lines, Pixel Galaxy from Serentiy Forge flips shoot-‘em-up conventions on their head by removing one important component: the ability to shoot.
Far from being a strictly dodge-‘em-up like Lost Orbit or Just Shapes and Beats, the game puts the player in control of a single square and grants it the ability to assimilate enemies that it comes in contact with. Once absorbed, the enemy is pasted onto the edge of the player's ever-growing amalgamation. This is a benefit because by assimilating them, the square inherits their weapons and auto-fires them. It's a clever mechanic reminiscent of the spaceship-building in Captain Forever Remix.
As more enemy squares are assimilated, the makeshift mass grows bigger and sends bullets, bombs, and deadly trails out in every direction. This makes it harder to acquire more enemies without accidentally killing them, and it also makes the conglomerate a larger, easier target for enemy bullets. As such, much of the game is spent aggressively piloting the blob of smushed-together shields and weapons towards enemies, trying not to fly into their wildly-spraying bullets.
Though the controls are tight enough to reliably maneuver through thick torrents of fire, it often felt like deaths were undeserved—it's not always immediately clear what can be touched safely and what can't. It's worse with bosses, which are composed of the same types of material as absorbable standard enemies, but will instead damage the player on contact.
Grounded in a unique, well-implemented idea and propped up by tight, responsive controls, Pixel Galaxy delivers a challenging and engrossing experience. A lack of strong visual identity and a few design quibbles keep it from being a must-play, but it's a solid experience overall, and a fresh new spin on the genre.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB, although I did not encounter anything that would warrant parental hesitation.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game does not require sound to play.
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