Pixel Ripped 1989 is the Ready Player One of virtual reality games, and that’s a big compliment. Out now for various VR-enabled systems, we played the Playstation VR version of the game for this review.
I would say that Pixel Ripped 1989 is best described as a virtual journey in time, and not in the Time Machine/Robinson’s Journey sense. In the game, you get sucked into an NES-era videogame – only to be transported into the mind of a 9 year old girl moments later. As this girl, you play the game with your handheld console – controlling Dot, the in-game character you just were seconds ago. Still with me?
The handheld is a cross between Nintendo’s Game Boy and Sega’s Game Gear, though the graphics on it resemble Nintendo’s monochromatic style much more than Sega’s full color games. The Dualshock controller doubles as this handheld inside the game, but there’s a meta-game at work here as well – you’re playing inside your classroom, and you have to be sneaky about it to not get caught. As a result, you’ll have to periodically look away from your handheld and engage with the classroom to make sure the teacher is distracted enough.
Further complicating things, your in-game nemesis (the Cyblin Lord) is able to break out of the handheld world and into the ‘real’ world as well, providing even more diversity in gameplay. Having said that, most of the gameplay is of the 2D platformer/metroidvania variety that was so common back in the day, so don’t expect to mix up first person shooters with driving games and everything else you can imagine.
The real magic, however, comes from the fact that so many of the gameplay sections are clear homages to classic titles – so there’s plenty of recognition here. It’s how I watched Spielberg’s Ready Player One as well…. “that’s so and so! and that’s a reference to that!”. It’s so much fun if you grew up with the source material that you forget about the plot and narrative for most of it… which more or less also happens with Pixel Ripped 1989.
Audiovisually it’s a mix of 8-bit visuals inside your handheld, retro-inspired music, neon light effects and other 80s-themed bits of magic. It’s certainly not the best looking VR title, but it performs well on a technical level with smooth framerates and crisp visuals. Since you’re using the Dualshock which acts as a handheld, the controls are also pretty intuitive – engaging with the classroom around you is mostly a case of looking up and around every now and then.
As a straight up videogame, I wouldn’t recommend Pixel Ripped 1989 to casual VR players. It’s a little “out there”, the gameplay itself isn’t groundbreaking and there are better platformers in VR available. However, it’s all wrapped into such a crazy and wonderfully nostalgic package, that I can’t recommend it enough to those who grew up in the eighties and early nineties and fondly remember the launch of the NES, Game Boy, Mega Drive/Genesis and Game Gear.