Dead Pixels and the Mash-up

I know Glee popularized mash-ups, but that doesn’t mean everything gets better when it’s tossed together. I’m pretty leery about Glee in itself, but that’s another entry in a different blog from someone else. I’m here to talk to you about Dead Pixels, the 2.5 D, side-scrolling, survival-oriented, procedurally-generated zombie-shooter with RPG elements from CSR-Studios. Yes, that does sound like a mouthful and it shows in game-play.

I should state right off that I enjoyed this game when it worked, because I’m going to whinge about it for the next few paragraphs. I picked up this game for obvious reasons. Zombies? Survival elements? That sounds right up my alley. Except, that it wasn’t. The main goal in this game is to get through 20 levels to safety by running through waves of zombies. You level up in this game by buying up-grades with cash you get from killing zombies and selling items. Sounds pretty good so far. You can up-grade your movement speed, your fire-power, carrying capacity, etc. The only problem is that if you try to carry too much, you’ll get weighed down and be unable to move faster than a snail. This will happen a lot until you finish up-grading your carrying capacity. However, the game is balanced so that you need to be carrying at least three different types of weapons later on. This isn’t a game-play requirement, it’s an ammo requirement.

You see, as makes sense in this world, you can only buy so much ammo from each store. However, that also means that, as the game progresses, you’ll need to be carrying one weapon of each type so that you can utilize each available bullet. This forces you to up-grade, which forces you to carry as much as possible to each store, which slows down game-play. This could have been mitigated by letting you place objects places, but once you put something down, it disappears. On top of that, each store has specific items that they want and will pay more for. This encourages you to cart around more useless stuff.

It’s not just a carrying problem, though. This is a fun game when it lets you run around shooting zombies. It bills itself as a mow-them-down zombie-warfare game, but the restrictions on bullets and the occasional slower-section where you’re unable to move because you want to sell an expensive item instead of throwing it away forever, mean that you’ll spend more time thinking about if you should shoot than how best to clean zombie-guts out of your green shirt. This problem could be curtailed if the game were balanced around carrying-capacity, up-grade timing and available ammo, but it’s not. It’s a generated game, which means that there’s almost no way they could balance it. The timing is just off in some places.

Grenades are few and far-between, or expensive. You’re never quite sure what to do with the valuables you pick up, besides sell them. The aiming system is kind of confusing. At times, you’ll be trying to figure exactly who you’ll hit with a shot. They just tried to put too much into this game. The genres don’t work together a lot of the time. They trip over each other trying to define how you’ll experience the game. The survival elements hamper the side-scrolling, shooting fun. The RPG elements hamper the survival elements, which are further hampered by the procedural generation. Actually, let’s just say that very little of it meshes well. They mesh, but it’s like a house full of resentful cats. Ultimately, one less of them would drastically improve the mood of the others. Then again, it might take something away from the amount of thought that has to go into making decisions in the game. Do you dump the weapon or do you hope there’s a store right around the next screen? Do you up-grade carrying capacity, land-speed, or damage to deal with the new, faster zombies? These are the types of questions I don’t mind answering.

I won’t cover all the problems with mechanical-interactions here because I’m not trying to write a game-play thesis, so I’ll simplify. As a side-scrolling shooter, it’s sometimes slow and frustrating. You’ll spend lots of time running away from enemies and crawling towards stores. You shouldn’t have any trouble surviving, because med-packs are cheap and the health up-grades are ridiculous. You could just run through most of this game, but you’ll end up dying in the end. The procedural level designs and triggers are neat. It’s fun to just pick up and play and comes with 4 different game modes to try.

It is an interesting concept, and if you want to experience the danger of mashing everything together first-hand, then I recommend picking it up. If you want a tight, well-designed 2.5 D side-scroller, I’d say Castle-crashers might be more fun, but I’m still giving it  1 New Colgate Toothbrush out of The Symbiot from Spider-man.

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