When I was seven years old, I got the Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. My parents already had a Pong machine and a Magnavox Odyssey, and I enjoyed both machines very much. But this was different. This was my console. My first console. And the game I fell in love with instantly was Super Mario Bros.
The colourful characters and catchy tunes captured my imagination. But what if Mario was stripped down to its barebones essence? Just the blocks?
Pixel Land is a minimalistic take on Super Mario Bros. The stages are, from what I've played so far, Super Mario Bros stages. Hollow sound effects are the only sound players hear while platforming through the game. Everything is familiar, but the game's developer Brad Slattery disorients the player, simply by making everything so sparse.
The game's graphics are restricted to a mere 64 pixels. It's like playing Super Mario Bros. on an 8x8 sheet of graph paper. Ironic, as the game was originally planned out on graph paper.
The game is not easy — an amazing accomplishment because these are stages most gamers have breezed through a million times. When you die, it quickcuts to your character, Pixelman, respawning. The lack of music, death animation and title card screen well known to Super Mario Bros. players makes death all the more brutish and nasty.
Pixel Land is one of the most interesting games I've played this year. Yes, I know, it's only January. But there's something about how familiar and yet utterly alien everything is that elevates Pixel Land well above simple clone to a smart and knowing homage to one of the greatest games ever made. And that's no minimal feat.
Pixel Land [iTunes]