by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Time to shoot some pixels...with some other pixels!
Many games offer you power-ups, but it's usually just one at a time and usually just for a few seconds. Imagine how crazy a game would be if it gave you tons of power-ups at once, let you pick which ones to equip, and allowed you to use them until each one ran out of ammo! Wouldn't that be nuts?
Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon does just that. A colorful top-down shooter with light RPG elements, Pixel Boy asks players to shoot through countless hoards of enemies, often all at once, in very tight corridors. So you'll need those power-ups. They're the only way to survive the game's hairy, trigger-mashing combat.
The power-ups include Spreadshot and Splitshot, both of which make your bullets fly in multiple directions; Shield, which creates protective orbs that rotate around you; Grow, which makes your bullets get larger the further they fly; Heat Seeker; and quite a few more. What's especially fun is the ability to mix these power-ups together. Want to make a bunch of little bullets that individually seek out enemies? Do it. Want to shoot from both your front and back at once while wearing a shield? Go right ahead! According to the game's Steam page, there are over six thousand combinations available.
This power-ups system is a blast when it works, adding a subtle strategic element to the game. You can equip three normal power-ups at a time but you can also craft three power-ups together into a single super-powerful one that takes up just one slot. With three of those combination-power-ups equipped, you can have a total of nine at a time. This will make you powerful indeed, but it will also mean that you'll be draining bullets from all three of them at once. If you don't have any other power-ups in your inventory, then you'll be left vulnerable when they run out.
Killing enemies nets XP (which you can use to upgrade your health, speed, damage, fire rate, etc.) as well as gold. Gold can be spent on more power-ups or to craft armor. Armor is crafted from several different ingredients, each of which enhances a stat; so if you want to build armor that gives you, say, more health and speed, you can do it. However, once that armor is broken, its stat bonuses are gone, and repairing it in the dungeon can be extremely expensive.
Randomly Generated Box Collections
Another of Pixel Boy's big selling points is its randomly-generated dungeons. To complete each dungeon, the player must find all three parts of an RGB (Red Green Blue) key, and then take it to the elevator. The enemies, power-ups, and general layout of the level are all randomized.
Unfortunately, this feature doesn't fare so well. Randomized or not, the dungeons feel virtually the same, each one a collection of nearly-identical boxes rearranged in vaguely different ways. While each area has a slightly different visual motif, the differences are usually too small to matter. The differences are so light that it sometimes feels like playing through the same dungeon over and over again.
Every dungeon starts you in the same start room, allowing you to go up or right. Down and left you'll find doors that initially do not open, though when you're near them the game tells you that “Many secrets hide in the shadows.” Well, the game kind of lies to you there, because this game's “secrets” don't feel very secretive. In each dungeon you'll find a randomly-placed-but-in-no-way-hidden beacon. Light that beacon and the “secret” doors at the start will be unlocked. However, they usually just contain more enemies and more of the same power-ups you already have. As far as secrets go, the ones in this game are pretty lame.
There are no rare or unique items in Pixel Boy, meaning that players aren't given much motivation to fully explore each dungeon. You'll want to kill all of the enemies you find to get cash and XP, but far too often you will go down a long hallway and find it to be yet another dead end. As a result, you sometimes end up feeling like a glorified janitor, going through the dungeon mopping up every living thing in sight. It quickly becomes tedious.
Randomly-generated dungeons tend to work best in games that distract you from how monotonous the layouts can be. Diablo motivated players to fully explore each dungeon with the promise of rare and unique loot. Pixel Boy just offers you more of what you already have: more cash, more XP, more armor-crafting orbs, and more of the same weapon power-ups.
Mixing power-ups is a blast; solid soundtrack
Annoying narrator; randomly-generated dungeons all end up feeling the same; inconsistent difficulty