App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Life can be tough for a cowboy in the old west. It's not just the showdowns and high noon or the bank heists. It's more than just the cattle-rustling and train robberies. It's the little things. Things like tumbleweeds, lead-slinging, dogies and falling in love and subsequently watching that special someone get carted off by extra terrestrials. Wait, what?
Chillingo's weird little arcade experiment, Pixel Ranger, is certainly an odd beast. It sports some super-retro visuals (I'm talking that special Commodore 64 kind of blocky) with a somewhat modern flair. It makes full use of iOS device touch and tilt controls. It's got a bunch of wacky and interesting power-ups. It's also an incredibly odd mix of cartoony Old West and goofy sci-fi. And it's quite a bit of fun.
That fun is why Pixel Ranger works. The theme, the look, the controls and gameplay; it's all just weird and crazy enough to gel together. And it all comes down to pixels. Pixels function as the cowboy's health and ammunition. Get hit, lose some pixels. Take a shot, lose some pixels. Destroyed enemies, however, will drop pixels, thus replenishing the plucky lad's stock. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway, as is the way with this expression), it's a good idea to take out a bunch of them at once with a single shot when they're grouped together. It saves on ordinance/life.
The stages get increasingly complex with enemies that eventually shoot back, some that crawl in from the sides and have to be jumped over, moving floors and even paddles that shots can be ricocheted off of. The game does a good job of steadily increasing the importance of different techniques (i.e. jumping, moving and timing shots) as the challenge increases. Oh, and there are the power-ups I mentioned before. Some, like the boomerang hat, are goofy but effective. Others, such as the bazooka, are just plain fun in a complete overkill kind of way. Then there's that stupid "?" that reverses the movement controls. I don't that one so much.
I'll admit, Pixel Ranger isn't perfect. I'm sure some of my grievances have more to do with my general lack of tilt control usage, but I did find myself stopping mid-jump and thus getting hit by a ground enemy on more than one occasion. Although I think the bigger issue is that it can get pretty hectic. Having to keep track of aggressors in the air as well as on the ground can be pretty tough later on. And that's putting it lightly.
Still, when it comes to sci-fi/western mash-up arcade games, I can't think of a better example than Pixel Ranger. It's just simply... endearing. And fun, of course. Plus the Endless Mode gives players plenty to do once they've grown tired of Classic.