They Bleed Pixels, which is both a precision platformer and a character action game.
Whenever I'm not contemplating hurling my controller from my second story office window, They Bleed Pixels is an absolute blast. Presented in a pixelated, retro style (isn't everything these days?), They Bleed Pixels tells the story of a girl's entanglement with the evil Book of Claws. She discovers the book in the library of her (also seemingly evil) school, the Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies. Every night, the book torments her with twisted dreams, in which she transforms into a hideous creature with crimson claws, traverses nightmarish landscapes and eviscerates horrible monsters.
That's where the player comes in. Each dream is separated into several chapters, each presenting some very tough platforming challenges and a host of baddies to slay. Our young female protagonist has several moves at her disposal, ranging from basic melee attacks to wall jumps to dive bomb attacks.
Combat revolves around a single button (B on an Xbox 360 pad), and it doesn't take long before she's performing impressive combos and juggling enemies in the air with ease. Extra points are awarded for killing enemies with style, so creative thinking is encouraged. Say you're in the middle of pummeling an opponent in midair. Rather than simply slicing away until it expires, why not drop it onto some spikes? On the ground, why not kick it into a massive saw blade? All of these actions result in fountains of (appropriately pixelated) blood, with a score multiplier going ever higher as combos rack up hits.
But there's more incentive to pulverizing and perforating enemies than simply increasing your score. As enemies are killed, a special meter fills at the top of the screen. Once full, you have only to find a safe spot, stand still, and instantly create a checkpoint, safeguarding your progress should you die.
And you will die. A lot. It's fairly common for me to die dozens of times on a given level (see video above). I know because They Bleed Pixels is kind enough to tally up my death total at the end of every level. Platforming can be incredibly tricky, with most levels offering very few safe havens. Nearly every surface is covered with spikes or whirring with blades. Those that aren't are often coated with slippery ice, making it tough to ever stand still. I've often found myself leaping from wall to wall, as there is literally nowhere safe to land at all.
One of the most devious tricks that They Bleed Pixels plays is that it also counts up how many checkpoints you create during a level, challenging you to create as few as possible. This became a game unto itself in my case, as I debated whether I should plop down a checkpoint or try to make it just a tiny bit further before giving in.
Of course, the other end of creating your own checkpoints is that it obviates one of the most grievous sins in game design. If you don't like the location of a particular checkpoint, you can't blame the designer, because you're the one who put it there.
Between its challenging platforming, unique save system and simple yet satisfying combat, They Bleed Pixels is an easy recommendation.
This article is based on a download of They Bleed Pixels, provided by Spooky Squid Games. They Bleed Pixels is available on Steam now for $10.