Tag Archives: Wide Pixel Games

REVIEW: Broken Pearl

From the weird and inventive Birth Order, to the equally-strange and nontraditional platformer X.S.E.E.D., Wide Pixel Games and Mikael Tillander have always succeeded in creating unique, infinitely-playable and fun games. Even others that I haven’t covered here, like Heavy Recoil and Twin Tiger Shark, have been quick favorites. The studio’s newest, Broken Pearl ($1.00), is no exception, taking the shooter genre onto a retro and vertically-scrolling path with a (potentially) hard-as-nails Bullet Hell.

If you’re even slightly-acquainted with shooters, Broken Pearl‘s setup is the typical stuff. You get two ships to choose from; a focused-fire variant that can plow through targets straight-ahead of it, and a spread-shot type that is better suited to damaging multiple enemies from multiple angles at once. You’re allocated a set number of lives and screen-clearing bombs (for emergencies, natch), then set loose to wreak havoc on a series of stages and their respective bosses. Oh, and probably a few thousand cannon fodder in-between.

Those foes aren’t likely to go gentle into that good night1, of course, littering the screen with plenty of bullets in a mesmerizing and ever-changing display of neon death. Thankfully, only the very center of your ship is vulnerable to their fire, (hopefully) resulting in some nimble maneuvering that will enable you to advance and aid in your high-score chasing2. You can also ‘rescue’ enslaved allies found in each stage, adding their guns and firepower to your ship for the duration of that current life.

Some of the heavier, bullet-sponge types will drop powerups that morph over time, which amounts to Broken Pearl‘s clever rewards payout. You can choose from a boost to your firepower (and any allies at your side), a score multiplier, or an additional bomb. Depending on your skill level and how much risk you’re willing to take on, it’s a simple but effective choice that helps newcomers as much as seasoned veterans. Both crowds will need the help.

Broken Pearl - Screen

While the phrases ‘a stiff challenge’ and ‘bullet hell’ tend to belong in the same sentence, it needs to be said that Broken Pearl IS difficult. The upside to that comment is that the game is only as hard as you make it, meaning as you practice and improve your own skills, the game’s inherent reward system— i.e., the bombs and weapon powerups— naturally decreases the challenge over time, with only yourself (and / or your ego) to blame upon death.

The game’s premise and mechanics may not be as bizarre as some of the studio’s previous titles, but Broken Pearl is still an easy recommendation to make. The game choreographs its version of a bullet ballet extremely-well, giving you ample challenge and that much more satisfaction when you eventually succeed and rage, rage against the dying of the light3.

  1. Yes, yes, the Dylan Thomas poem. Or villanelle, rather. Hey, they use poetry against us to sell jeans and wrestling these days, so what the hell. 
  2. You can upload your score to the game’s online leaderboard via your smartphone, where applicable. Always a clever work-around for the limitations of XBLIG. 
  3. Yup, back on the Thomas poem again. It got stuck in my head for some reason. 


Allow me to preface this review by stating a couple of things. First, I am admittedly late to the X S.E.E.D ($1.00) party, as its release was during that nebulous time I had stepped away from the site. Two, and this part may come as a shock and slap to the face of other XBLIG developers that like to phone in generic platformers, shooters, and so on; X S.E.E.D‘s rather ingenious idea comes from the five-year-old kid of developer Wide Pixel Games. Yeah, what has your kid done lately?

The game’s plot is threadbare, concerning government conspiracies and cover-ups, aggressive plant life on a remote island, so on and so forth. The gist is a plant-based, side-scrolling shooter. Sure, you can reference a certain movie, or make the obvious joke of how you’re spreading your seed all over the place, but the concept is novel and deliciously green-thinking, which pacifists and hippies should latch onto. Throw down your guns and let Mother Nature take center-stage, they’d say, until the plant grows fangs and starts launching fireballs.

Luckily, the protagonist can wield those seeds in battle like they were guns, planting (pun very much intended) them as turrets and tower defense-style protective vines. Your vegetarian arsenal starts off modest and grows as you defeat new plants-gone-wild, giving you access to more varied forms of fire like diagonal and heat-seeking shots. Some upgrades prove more useful than others, but all will give you more options in fighting the increasingly tough / just-out-of-reach enemies.

Both the visuals and gameplay skew heavily retro, something that wouldn’t look out of place on a Genesis or NES, with the difficulty of an old platformer to match. You’re given three lives to finish the game, no more no less, and all hits you take are fatal. There are no continues either (that both adds to the challenge and masks X S.E.E.D’s brevity), which can be frustrating if you happen to die near the end. In its defense, that difficulty is more memory-based than due to any harsh design. Finding a good angle, swapping between seeds quickly, and knowing which type is needed for a given situation is generally enough for you to do well.

X S.E.E.D - Screen

In that vein, the game is ideal for speed runs, putting you on the clock and tallying high scores (for which two different endings are possible). Subsequent playthroughs will show you ‘shortcuts’ you may have missed. Even the boss fights can be exploited in this manner, enabling you to sometimes win without ever stepping foot in the ‘boss chamber’ proper. However, a few issues are present. Each time you perish, you’re whisked back to the entrance of the stage for no apparent reason. Enemies do not respawn when you do, so it makes for a potentially long walk back to the point you left off. It’s also easy to lose track of hostile fire in the middle of the action (due to similar colors), and unseen enemies can ‘pop up’ during boss fights, both leading to regrettable (and yeah, cheap) deaths.

Even with those minor annoyances, X S.E.E.D deserves a look for the classic style and clever angle to the gameplay (an expanded sequel is reportedly in the works). It also teaches us all an important life lesson: Parenthood can be profitable when you shake down your children for every original IP they can think of.


Review on Fate of the Game

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Birth Order

I can’t sit here and type with a straight face that Shooters are underrepresented on the indie channel. Hear that, I was just laughing. The short of it is, you could throw out a Bing search on the Xbox dashboard and get more results than you could handle before the ‘Sh…‘ sound leaves your lips, ending in ‘…it! That’s a lot!’. Although a smaller sub-genre, the marketplace isn’t hurting for Bullet Hell(s) either, but Birth Order (80 MSP) attempts some out-of-the-hit-box thinking.

Rather than a traditional, numbered stage progression, advancement is handled via a grid-like game board, with you choosing a route (from a handful of repeated stage themes— City, Forest, etc.) towards the final boss, locked away at a seemingly safe distance. Bonus-granting cards earned in-game give you various powers (extra firepower, sidekicks) to use between levels and that last the duration of a stage, which is a unique touch, and adds some strategy to your chess moves (Hint: save ‘shield’ cards for later battles). Also novel is the ‘shooting’ itself.

‘Just Press B. It’s easy.’ Lies I told myself.

All of your shots are homing. An enemy’s weakness is visibly mapped to the face buttons. Match to kill. Sounds cut and dry, and it is, to an extent. See, there will be bullets. Lots of bullets. The pink variety can be converted into stars (the game’s energy currency) upon an enemy’s death, but other shots you’ll have to avoid amid a multicolored-chaos without end. I can’t stress enough the importance of having threat-assessing eyes. There’s the Quick, and then there’s the Leo… eh, you know the saying. And don’t expect any mercy from the start. If you’re not paying attention, the first stage will kill you immediately after the introductory handshake.

It’s not a Bullet Hell in the traditional sense. You’re not learning shot patterns through repetitious death; you’re just getting lucky after repetitious death. And therein lies the caveat, if you’re the type that goes looking for caveats. There’s a degree of chance at play here. While you will certainly improve at Birth Order and its enemy recognition over time (via that pesky death part), sometimes success will be had purely through the luck of the draw, either in the aforementioned perk cards or extra lives found on the world / game board.

Birth Order is short on playtime (my routes through the game ran about 25 minutes each), and the only nudge towards replaying it is to see where the chips may fall / if Lady Luck is on your side this round, but for the buck it’ll run you, it’s worth it to step outside the usual XBLIG shooter comfort zone.