I’ve grown up playing video games my entire life. Some of my fondest memories are sitting in the sun room of my family home as a kid and getting immersed in my favorite games while the real world went on around me. Life seemed to happen in the peripheral back then because as a young kid your priorities were different. Mom would vacuum around me, yell at me to save my game so she could watch the news, tell me to go outside and get fresh air. I look back on those early days fondly and I know a lot of you have similar nostalgic vibes. Well, it appears the developers behind the VR game Pixel Ripped 1995 either had those same experiences too or they data-mined my memory because Pixel Ripped is a fantastic emulation of what it was like to be a young gamer in the 90s.
The concept behind Pixel Ripped is sort of a blend between Wreck it Ralph and Tron. You play as two main protagonists: David, a young gamer living with his parents in 1995, and Dot, the hero of David’s game. Unbeknownst to the outside world there is an entire universe of living characters thriving inside of our favorite games. Characters carry on their lives in the video game world having fantastic adventures until one day when the evil Cyblin Lord hatches a plan that threatens not only the game world, but the real world as well. The only way to save the day is for Dot to form a connection with her gamer (David) to throw a wrench into the universe-hopping Cyblin Lord’s schemes.
The way you play Pixel Ripped is positively brilliant. As the player you are controlling David who is in turn controlling a variety of video games in different locations. With your DualShock in hand the first level has you play a 16-bit video game on the CRT television placed in the middle of the virtual living room. Looking around with your VR headset you see your parents having conversations, your neighbor poking his head in the window to tease you and more. All of this happens while you play a game-within-a-game. It’s pretty clever, but the TRULY amazing stuff comes in when the video game world begins to escape the confines of your television and infiltrate the real world. Each level has a component of this where you need to manage the real world happenings with what is happening inside of the game, and sometimes those two things overlap with sprite characters jumping out of the screen and fighting in real space almost like an Augmented Reality experience. One scene has Dot battling a giant goblin in your living room right before your eyes. You control her actions with the game controller and have to periodically grab your real life dart gun off of the couch to blast obstacles out of her way. This dancing between using the controller to manipulate the game and using real world objects to assist in the battles are immensely satisfying and incredibly clever.
The writing in Pixel Ripped is also a highlight as the developers at Arvore Immersive Experiences clearly know their stuff when it comes to video game history. As David plays different games on different machines we get nods to classics like Sonic the Hedgehog, Castlevania and even Mortal Kombat. All of these are presented with authentic sights and sounds that ping a 6th sense in your gamer brain giving you that feeling of being a kid in the 90s again. As David plays these different experiences we are treated to spot on jokes and references from each lampooned game and even see different game characters start to bleed into each others worlds causing hilarious chaos. My favorite character in the game is Cedric, a clear homage to Simon Belmont who is positively clueless and full of himself to the point where anytime you pass in front of a mirror in the Castelvania level Cedric stops to check himself out. This game is funny and will have you giggling all the way through.
Pixel Ripped 1995 isn’t perfect though, there are a few things to consider with this game that can make muddy up the experience a little. First is probably the most unavoidable in that when you’re making a game that emulates the video games of the early to mid 90’s you’re going to run into the inevitable realization that most of those games suck by todays standards. Now sure there are a lot of stand out experiences from the day, but Pixel Ripped is positioned in a place where they can only spend about ten or fifteen minutes on each game they are parodying, so you won’t see anything like a Chrono Trigger or a Super Mario World, instead you’re gonna get a lot of Aero the Acrobat and Cool Spot kinda stuff. The fun doesn’t come from these emulated games, it comes from how Pixel Ripped subverts your expectations with the way the games infiltrate the real world.
The other thing that is underwhelming is the art design of the real world. Characters look like muppets and the environments are very basic and cartoony. It’s a design choice, but it hurts the immersion especially when a big part of this game is how video games merge with the real world, and when this real world looks very much like an old video game itself the result is not as contrasting as I would prefer. If the developers would have put more of an effort into giving the real world a more grounded aesthetic I think the result would have been a much more pleasant visual experience.
Overall Pixel Ripped 1995 is an extremely charming, funny and clever VR game that showcases why VR can provide video game experiences that are impossible on a 2D playing field. I highly recommend it for gamers looking for something funny and unique and as a side note this is the perfect VR game for players with a smaller play space. You can play the entire experience seated in your chair. So if you’re feeling nostalgic for the experience of playing games as a kid, do yourself a favor and give Pixel Ripped 1995 a go. It’s a blast inspired by the past.