After running the Kickstarter gauntlet twice to get their game made, Tic Toc Games has finally wrapped up development on Adventures of Pip. The studio of former WayForward employees has crunched through the final stretch of its development, producing a really solid game in a fraction of the time it has taken other Kickstarter funded developers to get theirs out there.
Low price, fast development, really fun game. That’s about as efficient as it gets!
Adventures of Pip isn’t a very deep or very long game for that matter. I beat it over two dedicated sittings, but they were a handful of my favorite gaming hours so far in 2015.
Pixel perfect presentation
Adventures of Pip is a simple platformer which comments on the status of pixels. I don’t mean that pixels are going anywhere or are less popular in the gaming world. What I mean is that Adventures of Pip uses its retro-gaming look to inspire its story.
Our kingdom is made up of people of all different “resolutions,” and the princess and her family have the most pixels of all. As we work down the social ladder, the inhabitants start to have less and less pixels until we come to the lowest class of being, the servants and what not, who are only comprised of a single and very large pixel. This is where we find our hero Pip at the start of his journey.
An evil witch obviously wants to rule the world, so she kidnaps the princess to manipulate her pixel creating powers. Pip is the only one brave enough to set out after the kidnapper and her victim, and early in his journey, he stumbles across an ancient secret called the Bitstream. This magical “flow” throughout the world (hello Final Fantasy VII) manipulate life, but can also be manipulated to evolve one’s “resolution” in the world.
With this new found power, Pip is more than equipped to save the princess and the world.
It’s a fine little tale, sweet, lighthearted with some goofy social commentary. When asking how she can be rescued by a hero with no arms, she still insists that she is not a “rezcist,” and we chuckle.
More importantly than the narrative itself though is the “feel” of the game, which seems to be a growing movement in gaming. Adventures of Pip perfectly taps into those classics that its pixilated story is referencing. The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest. Tic Toc Game’s classic look and beautifully written music perfectly channel the timeless storytelling and aesthetic of these early gaming masterpieces.
Many try, but few succeed at doing it so genuinely. Tic Toc Games is one of those few, probably thanks to experience at WayForward, and Adventures of Pip is just bursting with that classic, simple, and innocent character to help set it apart from the rest of the platformers out there.
All Pixels are created equal
As I mentioned before, Adventures of Pip isn’t a very deep game, but it isn’t especially trying to be. Tic Toc Game’s main hook comes lifted straight from the game’s story in which Pip learns to manipulate his body and change his resolution to match situations.
When taking his native “single-pixel” state, Pip is very small and very light. He can fit into tight corridors, bounce higher on springs, and drop slower from a jump, making for safe and accurate landings.
In the first level, he gains the ability to change into an 8-bit character, resembling Super Meat Boy or the original Mario, and in line with these characters, it is here we find him at his most agile. He runs faster, can cling to walls or jump from them, and he starts to show competency at melee combat with a punch. I guess that comes with growing a pair of arms!
And we have the 32-bit Pip, our sword wielder from a more PlayStation age. And his character really is just his sword. This form is slow, too heavy to swim or bounce from walls and springs, but he’s got the sword and makes good use of it.
Using these three forms, Adventures of Pip challenges players with an enormous selection of puzzles, combat situations, secret areas, and some well crafted boss fights by swapping between them and using their individual strengths. Pip only “devolves” on his own, needing to kill special enemies to “evolve,” but he’ll need all three to make it through the grueling levels alive.
In line with the game’s theme of “all pixels are created equal,” Tic Toc Games makes sure that all three evolutions are on an even keel. Other games would treat these with a hierarchy, probably inspiring everyone to see the melee fighter as a reward for reaching and maintaining the highest evolution. Not Adventures of Pip. Truth be told, the melee fighter isn’t all that much fun to use unless dozens of enemies are about and need some chopping. Most will find themselves gravitating towards the limber 8-bit Pip to explore more and jump faster.
There is a difficult balance here in creating an equal sense of importance for all three evolutions, but instead of the reward players with the evolution of the character, Tic Toc Games focuses more on the overall reward of beating puzzles and finding secrets. Adventures of Pip delivers a satisfying sense of achievement for doing so much with so little and teasing your brain screen after screen with different ways to equally view all three.
Secrets also take the form of villagers scattered throughout the level. Some walls are not exactly as they appear, and Pip can go behind the “sprite layer” to rescue them. Treasure chest also linger behind the walls as well, granting a lot of money for the game’s light RPG elements and weapons.
Again, it’s not a deep game, but Tic Toc Games finds a nice balance by not taking the focus off the platforming. Secrets are easy to find, but never so challenging that you’ll need more than two attempts at a level. Trust your instincts on where the holes to the background are. And the RPG elements add a few nice trinkets like double money, more health, or a magnet for easily picking up treasure. Nothing that will shatter or greatly change the game, but the point here is simplicity.
I played the Wii U version and only had a few problems with the performance as well. The jumping animation feels “off” with motion blur when compared to Pip’s running animations, and the frame rate never seems to get to that pixel-perfect level either, especially in the hub town. Some boss fights also flash brief pause in the gameplay before resuming normally. These issues are there, but never totally obtrusive to the gameplay.
My guess is that the PC and upcoming PlayStation 4 versions handle them better.
A brief meandering of pure joy
The joy of playing Adventures of Pip comes from seeing just how much these developers understand the importance of level design. The game is more than just a random spattering of “metroidvania” parts, and you can tell how much thought went into each and every screen that Pip stumbles across.
When making this game, Tic Toc Games had to take into account how each different form will react to a puzzle and how players might use a form to break or manipulate them. Where is the monster placement? How high can the pixel-Pip jump compared to the 8-bit Pip? How much stronger is the sword than the punch against this boss?
I wouldn’t put it on the same platform as true masterpieces of level design like Super Meat Boy, but Adventures of Pip has is where it counts, a rare blend between puzzle platforming and action platforming. It encourages fun, promotes equality between Pip’s different forms, and challenges players to know the ins and outs of the character’s simple skill base.
From there, Tic Toc Games finds hundreds of ways to manipulate the character’s limitations, getting as much out of him as possible.
It’s a solid foundation, and if Adventures of Pip proves to be as financially successful as it deserves to be, I would like to see a sequel that promotes more exploration, ala Super Mario World. Branching paths, secret exits, “expert” levels. You know the drill.
Adventure of Pip is a wonderful little platformer and further proof that Kickstarter can help fund some of life’s more pleasurable joys. $14.99 is a steal for one of my favorite games so far in 2015.
Disclaimer: Ron backed Adventures of Pip on Kickstarter (both times) and played the game to completion on the Wii U.