It’s always a delicate balancing act trying to appease both modern and old-school audiences with mostly nostalgia alone. It can be done, as the likes of I Am Setsuna and - to a lesser extent - Siralim have proven. On paper, Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is an intriguing proposition; an 8-bit retro roguelike RPG that is a straight-up, no-frills nostalgia play. What some developers forget, however, is that it is critical to at least attempt to iron out the tedium that often plagued those old-school RPGs of yesteryear. Unfortunately, German developer The Bitfather stumbles at this hurdle and struggles to gain any meaningful momentum as a result. This is very much an antiquated Amstrad CPC 464-era RPG, warts and all.
As is the case with most roguelikes, the story within the game is minimal: an age-old tribe named the The Sons of Dawn, are determined to awaken some evil thing and this thing is nasty and wants to destroy everything (because that’s what evil monsters want to do, silly). The town of Pixton is under threat, so it’s your job to hire three heroes from the local watering hole (replete with a groovy house band that riffs on the Mos Eisley theme tune from Star Wars - nice touch). You must then venture forth to defeat the nasties that roam the wilds and crush the fierce bosses that lurk deep within the many dungeons that pepper the mystical, fantasy lands.
There are 30 unique hero classes (18 of which are unlockable), and each have their own individual skills, attributes and amusing back stories. My herbalist dwarf Jomo, for example, cooked the best deep-fried sandwiches in the world and believed aliens abducted his pet cat - pretty nuts, right? Once you’ve assembled your party, you’re free to explore the town of Pixton, which acts as a sort of hub world where you pick up quests, buy/sell items, chat with the locals and resurrect fallen party members for a small fee.
Once you get to grips with some very wonky controls, the game’s first impressions are fairly positive, especially if you’re a sucker for old-school pixelated visuals and tongue-in-cheek, off-kilter humour like yours truly. It’s at its best in the opening moments, when you’re accruing low-level loot from adventuring, leveling up and tinkering with your heroes’ equipment to maximise each individual character’s combat potential. Sadly, it all comes undone when it dawns on you that the game’s combat is - in a word - dull.
The combat is drearily basic turn-based fare with very little flair. The most frustrating thing is that defeating a monster and whittling down an opponent’s ranks has no discernible benefit on how each battle unfolds. Conflicts revolve around brainless tit-for-tat skirmishes - you hit the monster and the monsters hit you, ad nauseum. Though you may quash a single monster, you’ll continue to lose a similar amount of health even if there’s just one lone nasty left in the pack. Unlike the mesmeric roguelike masterpiece that is Darkest Dungeon, Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic lacks any meaningful strategy, which ultimately relegates the whole experience to a bland ‘I hit you-you hit me’ snooze-fest. Some status effects, magic spells and unique abilities do try to spice things up, but it’s just not enough to get too excited about. I was fighting to keep my eyes open, which is the ultimate sin for any game.
I genuinely wanted to like Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic. It’s got some nice ideas, and I do think the developer’s hearts are in the right place; roguelike RPGs are a rich and fascinating genre to mine and plunder, especially if they’re fleshed out with a strategic and interesting combat system like Darkest Dungeon or I Am Setsuna, for example. If you’re making a game in 2017, the importance of sidestepping the archaic problems from yesteryear should be a pretty high priority. Ultimately, the bland, dreary combat sinks the entirety of the experience and it’s with a heavy heart that I must warn you to avoid this title if you have any choice in the matter. Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is a swing and a woeful miss.
Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
Ultimately, the bland, dreary combat sinks the entirety of the experience and it’s with a heavy heart that I must warn you to avoid this title if you have any choice in the matter. Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic is a swing and a woeful miss.