For fans of frenetic top-down arena shooters with a retro aesthetic, Pixel Purge by Epic Shadow has plenty to offer. The fictional land of Pixela-RT witnessed years of prosperity. Now, a dark portal spews forth endless waves of Space Invaders inspired monsters intent on destroying all that is good and pixely. Luckily, volunteers from across the land take to the sky in small white spaceships to fend off the menace. Endless waves of enemies face down your small white ship on an apocalyptic top-down battlefield.
Beyond an overblown opening cinematic, the story disappears in favor of pure blasting. You control your ship with [WASD] movement and mouse aiming, allowing for strafing and precision avoidance. Enemies approach from all sides of the arena constantly. Each one you blast awards you points. Collisions with the invaders drain your health bar, which ends your quest for a highscore. The game starts out with a storm of basic enemies, and the longer you survive the larger and more dangerous they become.
Pixel Purge isn't simply a bare-bones survival shooter though. Each destroyed enemy drops "pixels" as a form of experience points. Gather enough to level up your ship and spend a skill point in one of eight attributes. The attributes fall into four categories: Offense, Defense, Bullet Effects, and Score, allowing players a small degree of customization. Along with dropped, temporary power-ups, gathering pixels for upgrades becomes a necessity to survive. As the fray becomes swamped with different enemy types weaving in and out of your attackers towards one more level-up becomes a white-knuckle affair.
An unlockable bestiary and trophies offer replay value as well. After defeating a certain number of each type of enemy the game reveals their stats and behavior. Large scores and avoidance perfection awards trophies for bragging rights, and a full set of trophies gives bonus skill points at the start of a new round. Beyond that, a highscore is the ultimate goal, with chain multipliers and massive invaders to fell.
Analysis: Pixel Purge looks great. The unique spin on the retro ascetic keeps enemy types clear when gameplay speeds up to the max. The battleground itself looks eerie, with lightning effects and particle enemy explosions keeping things interesting. Those looking for a narrative or ending will be disappointed that the intriguing atmosphere adds nothing to the story, which itself only provides a context for this shooter.
The gameplay is also great, but falls short of perfection. The upgrades themselves seem unbalanced. The fast pace eventually makes health recovery upgrades obsolete, and everything moves too fast to show if upgrades to bullet effects make much of a difference. I would have liked to see more inspired trophies too, as many are simply grinds towards larger multiplier chains and scores. However the core gameplay works great, and makes grinding for a spot on the leaderboards worth a try.
Despite its flaws, Pixel Purge is a great example of the arena shooter genre done up in a nice pixel package.