Nitrome continues its relationship with MTV Arcade with their latest, Pixel Pop. It's like a rhythm-based Wario Ware, in which you play colorful mini-game levels with a musical timing element. Destroy attacking fighters and tanks as Godzilla! Stake vampires as they rise in their coffins! Um...eat...stuff. It's all here, with three difficulty levels across four distinct stages, a different song in each level, and a final "mix-tape" stage that surreally switches context between the stages over the course of the song.
All you need is your mouse. There are some levels with a motion element, but by and large, it's one-switch action. It's no DDR, though; clicking in time to the beat yields to complicated click-hold-and-release patterns, all melded smoothly into one motion. And all to a soundtrack too infectious to sit still to.
Analysis: I think we can skip over the part where I talk about the graphics and sound that have become a staple of Nitrome's style, except to say that the C64 references have never been as explicit.
Pixel Pop strikes a delicate balance between adding novelty and complexity to a rhythm game on the one hand, and remaining comprehensible on the other, and it is a qualified success. Toward the end, the tasks can become almost too intricate, to the point where you are too distracted by the kinematics to notice how they tie together with the on-screen action, or with the music. At the same time, the precision of the timing increases sharply between difficulty levels (from downbeat to upbeat to off-beat), making for a steep and sometimes frustrating difficulty curve.
This problem is alleviated somewhat by the fact that each stage in a set emphasizes some of the same parts of the rhythm, and they share some conceptual similarities—they all might require you to anticipate the beat, for instance. Thus, the biggest hurdle is the first stage.
The timing of the game is thankfully hiccup-free.* I noticed the animation or sound sticking occasionally, but it all resynced to the music quickly and flawlessly, though a few sound cues seem to mute on occasion. There are one or two bugs that can be exploited to the player's advantage, but they're very difficult to find.
All in all, Pixel Pop is a polished, quirky and entertaining title, if you have a decent sense of rhythm. I heartily recommend it.
Thanks to Maqrkk, Alex, Joseph, Repairmanman, Jninjaz, Aethelind, Mrsico, Luffely, Sijapu17, Rosie and Boris for sending this one in!
*Note: Your mileage may vary. A couple of our reviewers had trouble playing this one due to synchronization problems.