While VR experiences I think don’t have much of a lasting appeal, by which I mean those shorter, more consumable trips you can take into the Virtual Dimension, I think they can still be really exciting in regards to the feelings they hit or touch upon. Much like I feel with many of the two-to-three hour gaming experiences out there outside of VR, a two to three hour VR trip can still be an encompassed story that has some level of poignancy. I think Pixel Ripped 1989 is exactly this.
What I love about this particular trip, which to be clear is my first front to back VR title I’ve completed, is how it toys with what you can do with that space, much like another delightful PSVR title Moss. Pixel Ripped has a motif, a running theme, and its commitment to that brought about some surprising levels of nostalgia cross its few short hours.
Pixel Ripped 1989 puts you in the body of young England native Nicola, essentially goofing off in class in either middle or elementary school, attempting to get through her school day while her full attention is glued to her “Gear Kid™”, essentially a GameBoy-like handheld console. There is a larger more absurdist narrative, but for the basics of understanding Pixel Ripped, I think it’s best not to spoil how fun and weird the game gets as it progresses.
I don’t know how deep the intended “game-within-a-game” concept was meant to go, but for all intents and purposes, it’s not terribly too deep here in Pixel Ripped, and that’s okay. It works better as something that is lighter weight and more surface level than anything that completely splits this game in two. The basics have you looking around the room and shooting a spitball gun to distract your teacher long enough to get over a tricky jump or to the next checkpoint in the handheld game Pixel Ripped itself.
It’s fully homage too, taking on the color scheme of a GameBoy game leaning into the
two button controls. What I love is the attention to detail in how Nicola holds the controller, like when you hold down the shoot button and tap the jump button on top of that to run and jump, the thumbs holding the system are graphed to reflect that. While generally the characters and models outside of the GameKid’s world look pretty rough, I don’t know if they needed to look amazing to invest you in what you’re doing, even if they stand out in certain moments.
Platforming is generally pretty simple in Pixel Ripped, but it seems poorly paced as far as difficulty is concerned. There were a few moments where the timing of checkpoints combined with some out-of-nowhere tricky jumps absolutely did not work. Specifically a short section where you have to wait for blocks to appear as you jump on them, and the difficulty seemed to spike suddenly.
The platforming in the game is generally fine, reminding me a lot of an older or original Mega Man, since it’s a very much jump and shoot kind of game with a simple laser blaster as your weapon, and it feels pretty tight on top of that. There are secrets to find and easter eggs hidden in each level, but it’s more of a conceptual vehicle to get you to the next stage.
Where Pixel Ripped really shines are the moments where the 2D game in your hands meets the 3D game all around you in VR, and you’re suddenly combining the tools you have across both to get through levels that pop up in 3D around you. While there aren’t too many of these sequences, they’re the really best moments of the short adventure.
I was surprised at how Pixel Ripped 1989 took me on more of a nostalgia trip than I was ready for. There is a specific moment where it genuinely channels the feeling of gathering around a game with all your friends and either watching them play or playing with everyone watching, cheering you on. It’s a very specific sensation, but the combination of how you’re playing this game and also sitting in this world with people around you watching you and cheering for you. It was surreal and I could tell it was exactly what Pixel Ripped set out to do, and it nailed it.
While Pixel Ripped 1989 is generally pretty short, and I don’t think it makes splashes in any of the actual mechanics it introduces, it’s a ton of fun. It harkens back to a very specific era, it makes tons of jokes about old school video games, and it feels like it’s having fun the entire time. There are highs of emotional poignancy to playing games with your friends or family that I wasn’t expecting, and at its best moments Pixel Ripped surprised the hell out of me.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system with a review code provided by the developer.