If H.P. Lovecraft had an illegitimate love child with Super Meat Boy, the result would be something like They Bleed Pixels, a fantastic new indie game from Spooky Squid Games. You play as a young girl sent to the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies, where upon discovering a strange book she finds her nightmares turned into reality as she grows claws and is forced to fight demonic terrors. This is definitely not your everyday platformer.
One thing that sets the game apart is the art design. The team obviously spent a lot of time making sure they got the atmosphere right, and they nailed it. Beautiful pixel art and videos, fluid animations, unique level design, and varied and disturbing enemy types come together to bring the lovecraftian world to life. Even the steam code I purchased came in an envelope sealed with wax stamped by the tentacled one himself! The cthulu mythos permeates the games 12 levels, from particularly powerful combos labeled Eldritch all the way to a quote by Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself in the loading screen to the prologue!
It is a game though, and the gameplay stands on its own as addictive. The team over at Spooky Squid Games have deftly combined much of the rewarding yet difficult platforming of games like Super Meat Boy with a combo heavy combat system. Simple to learn yet difficult to master, the system of dashes, kicks and punches can be combined in a myriad of different ways with the numerous sawblades, spikes, and bombs littering the nightmarish world. Each successful attack rewards you with a growing combo meter and when you administer the coup de grace an explosion of bloody pixels that would make Tarantino envious rains down. There isn’t too much depth to be had here, considering there are only two buttons being pressed. One button for jumping and the other for attacks, but what it lacks in depth in makes up for in fun.
I mentioned the difficulty earlier. This is a difficult game but the game takes a novel approach to this by allowing the player to create their own checkpoints. As you gather orbs and perform combos, the meter at the top of the screen builds. When it is full, simply stop moving for a few seconds to release a portal that will act as your checkpoint next time you die. It’s such an ingenious solution to the problem of poorly placed checkpoints (which I’m sure we’ve all experienced with frustration more than a time or two) that I’m surprised no one has done it before.
After the main story is done, you can always replay levels to earn a better rank, high score, and time in the online leaderboards as well as explore and find all of the hidden collectables to unlock artwork from other famous indie developers and artists. The game has full Steamworks support which means the community can make levels themselves as free DLC. The prepackaged bonus levels are unique and fun twists including my favorite, the crayon scribbled, susnshine filled ponycorn level.
At Fan Expo Canada this year I had a chance to speak with Miguel Sternberg, one of the lead designers of the game about the creative process, what inspired him to bring such a cute yet dark world to life, and some of the choices concerning the combat mechanics in the game. Many thanks for letting us take some of his time for the interview and for introducing me to such a unique and fun game.
They Bleed Pixels can be found on Steam for $9.99