The Pixel Ripped series has maintained a consistent following while existing mostly under the radar, keeping perfect pace with new upgrades in VR gaming technology while sticking to its core retro throwback principles over a trio of releases. Pixel Ripped 1995 is the second title in the series, which now enjoys a spiffy PSVR2 update delivering smoother gameplay and some new features for Sony’s flagship headset. For millennial and adjacent gamers who grew up in the wood-paneled television age, Pixel Ripped 1995 hits that sweet spot of nostalgic resonance and good-vibes adventure, even though some of its best ideas could use a little more expansion and attention.
As with the other games, players primarily take on the role of a young person interacting with Dot, the hero of the video game realm of Far-of-a-Land. Dot presents most recognizably as Samus Aran of Nintendo’s Metroid franchise, sporting shiny armor and a hand cannon, and any scene in Pixel Ripped 1995 from Dot’s perspective features pixelated 2D graphics smoothly modeled and animated in a 3D space. It’s a consistently cool style that hasn’t really been replicated elsewhere, and the detailed environments from this perspective blend 16-bit textures with all the expectant tricks from immersive VR stationary games.
The Cyblin Lord Cometh
Part of Pixel Ripped 1995’s approachability stems from its storytelling, which features a charming Saturday morning cartoon plot arc where Dot seeks the help of the greatest video game players in the “real” world to succeed against her arch nemesis, a megalomaniacal goblin named Cyblin Lord. To keep the peace, a cubic MacGuffin known as “The Stone” lies under lock and key in a temple, but Cyblin Lord steals it to subdue and hypnotize the residents of Far-of-a-Land.
The narrative progresses over the six chapters of the game, which see Dot and her champion player teaming up; the former typically on a screen and the latter with controller in hand. Pixel Ripped 1995 centers on David, an eleven-year-old video game wiz whose mother constantly harangues him about his constant positioning in front of the screen. Both she and David’s father are well-meaning but uninformed parents, and the game is filled with concerned critiques on gaming pursuits which will feel most familiar to those of a certain age.
Gaming Worlds Within Worlds
With those tensions in place, most chapters see David attempting to play a game in his favorite series-within-the-game, Pixel Ripped. These feature various riffs on the 16-bit era and a little beyond, including mascot platformers, the Sega Genesis’ Road Rash series, Star Fox, and other teasing references. There’s a turkey hidden in a predictable wall during a Castlevania-like portion, and one of David’s needling frenemies mentions a secret in a game he learned from his uncle who works for the video game company du jour.
Of course, there are never any overt mentions of real-life gaming corporations, but Pixel Ripped 1995’s developers clearly grew up among the era’s greats, and the more niche references are sure to resound. Beyond these tips of the hat are the more ineffable cultural details, like trying to play a video game while a parent vents on the phone to a relative about her son’s obsession, or the special thrill of playing an unowned console at a video game store’s kiosk.
Inventive Gameplay and Great Bosses
In most cases, Pixel Ripped 1995 uses these scenarios to add a pleasant twist, complicating the otherwise simple games-within-the-game. In the latter case, Dot merges the game worlds in two different kiosks together, so that weapons picked up in a platformer on one kiosk can be transferred to the hero in the other. Players then have to swap the virtual controllers back and forth to make progress in each of the two games, all while David’s nemesis and a few browsing customers yammer on in the background.
This attention to atmosphere is one of Pixel Ripped 1995’s greatest strengths. The reality-bending boss battles that finish off each chapter are another, a set of curious encounters which merge David’s “reality” with Dot’s heroics, ramping up the interactivity further. In one, he tosses banana peels to trip up a two-dimensional boss while controlling a motorcycle-riding Dot, all while dad keeps asking about the commotion coming from the back of the car. In another, he guides her through space hazards wielding her spaceship like a paper plane, which is a strong enough gameplay mechanic to make for its own VR title.
Short & Mostly Sweet
The game is quite short, with start to credits requiring approximately three hours in total, though hunting for a series of tucked-away golden cartridges in the game might propel completionists to give it another spin. These collectibles unlock skins for Dot, and a few of their locations are satisfying to solve, though playing through certain chapters to track them all down might be a grueling exercise.
Certain levels risk dragging the experience down, especially the beat ‘em up chapter. Here, David enters a competition at the local arcade, but the Streets of Rage clone he has to play is absolutely the worst game in the lot. The level boss is easy but noxious, presented as a 1v1 fighter rival, but the simplicity of the action here makes the experience feel broken and much less than the sum of its conceptual parts.
Final Thoughts & Review Score
The rest of the game fares much better, and the Castlevania section in particular is a genuine treat. Even the stand-in for Belmont with his dopey narcissism could be a sly reference to the cartoon counterpart in Captain N The Game Master; that’s how deeply read the love of gaming is in Pixel Ripped 1995. In many ways the superior update of its predecessor, it’s a digestible VR nostalgia-fest which will resonate most with those of us who remember renting games at the nearby shop and running into a silly name left behind on the last player’s save file. With this as the current best version of the game – and a thankfully free PSVR2 upgrade for anyone who still has it in their library – Pixel Ripped 1995 always keeps its 16-bit heart in the right place.
Pixel Ripped 1995 is available on most VR headsets, with this newest edition arriving to PlayStation VR2 on October 3. A digital PSVR2 code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.