Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic does a spot of wordplay right there in its title, as if imitating the kind of journalistic rag that lets a pun in the headline do ninety percent of the work so that it can duck out of the office early and head to The Butcher’s Elbow for a tankard of remedial stout. It’s an RPG, with magical weapons, wizards, skellingtons and all the rest, but everything is played for laughs. Not content with a bout of A Wizard’s Staff Has a Knob on the End, Pixel Heroes blends its comedy with randomised dungeon crawling It’s rather like playing Darkest Dungeon [official site] lite.
I played both Pixel Heroes and Darkest Dungeon for the first time last week, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drag the former away from the wonderfully overwrought and tenebrous shadow of the latter. In terms of atmosphere, Darkest Dungeon wins hands down, although the retro style of Pixel Heroes does have a certain charm. Even if you prefer tittering to trembling, Pixel Heroes doesn’t manage to outshine Darkest Dungeon where it matters. Its dungeons have a single route and the difficulty is the only thing that seems to change as you delve deeper. Enemies have more hitpoints and you find bigger weapons to chip away at those hitpoints.
It’s a pleasant enough diversion but the couple of hours that I’ve spent with it have been effectively mindless. I equip my best items. suitable to whichever heroes are in my party, heal when hitpoints are low, and smash enemies with skills when timers have elapsed. There’s nothing to match the tension and deviousness of Darkest Dungeon’s elaborate positional jostling, and nothing in the game approaches the delicious blend of mechanics and theme found in Red Hook’s psychology system.
That said, I’m tempted to return to Pixel Heroes. It’s a good podcast game – which is to say a game that can occupy my hands while my mind is absorbing 99% Invisible. If you’re willing to fill in the gaps with imaginings of your own, the random encounters en route to the dungeons and the varied enemies lend themselves to some enjoyable solo storytelling, but unless you find the idea of a stoned herbalist healer stupendously funny, you’re unlikely to laugh at many of the jokes. They’re gentle jokes though, perhaps the kind you’re supposed to smile along with rather than laugh at.
I prefer cringing to smiling though, which is why I’ll be heading back to the land of the lost. Read Alec’s thoughts on Darkest Dungeon and join us.
Now, where’s that stout?