Hot Pixel Final Hands-On
Atari's minigame collection is about to be unleashed on the world. We sat down with a finished copy of the PSP version for a final hands-on analysis.
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A fair amount of time has passed since Hot Pixel was introduced to us at E3 06 by a self-proclaimed "street-smart cool cat" called Djon as a minigame compendium with style. It's taken him and his team over at zSlide more than a year to finish the project, but we're now happy to report that we've taken delivery of the finished game. From what we've seen so far, it stays true to its original promise, bringing a dose of street-culture cool to its wacky Wario Ware-esque minigames.
Hot Pixel's style draws from the world of video games, graffiti, and urban sports, and if you have an interest in any of the above then you're bound to fall in love with its aesthetic. It's clear that the design team's members were free to explore whatever ideas came into their heads, as the graphics, video, and minigames are "out there," to say the least. This is a game where consistency lies in inconsistency, and it's often hard to guess just what you're going to see next.
Hot Pixel puts you in the shoes of Djon, an urban sports fanatic and a bit of a celebrity in his native France. Each of the game's 10 levels is dedicated to a different part of Djon's life. There are levels based on basic urban skills such as awareness and recognition, as well as lifestyle elements such as spirituality and computing, and each level has its own theme that applies to all its minigames. For example, the awareness level features tasks such as tongue piercing and graffiti spotting, while the computing level has challenges based on mathematics and programming.
The first level of Hot Pixel is named underground, and it acts as a gentle introduction to the minigame formula. Those who've played Wario Ware will know exactly what to expect: A series of small challenges will appear every five seconds, and you have a very limited amount of time to figure out what to do. Some games pay homage to famous video games of the past, such as a bat-and-ball game that plays just like Pong. Others are based on button combinations--press them in the right order and a pair of hands will perform an urban-style handshake.
Progression through Hot Pixel is pretty much identical to that in Wario Ware, but Hot Pixel also offers bonus points for performing at speed and not making mistakes. Much like Wario Ware, there are bosses at the end of each level which provide a slightly longer and more difficult challenge than the other minigames. The first one is another Pong-style bat-and-ball game in which you have to destroy a series of blocks that make up a shape on the side of a building. There's also a music game in which you have to remember an increasingly complex set of notes, which need to be repeated by pressing directions on the D pad.
Each level in Hot Pixel is preceded and ended with a different video of Djon in action, with the ending changing depending on whether you win or lose on the level. They're not long segments, but they're as funny and demented as the minigames themselves. Losing one of the levels sees Djon sent to a mental asylum and put in a straitjacket; another sees him climbing out of a hole in the ground to polish a vinyl record. They make about as much sense as a Philip K. Dick novel, but they're entertaining nonetheless.
Progressing through the first six levels in Hot Pixel, we quickly found our favourite minigames. We love the one where you have to use binoculars to spy on your neighbours to find the cute girls, and the one where you have to customise your trainers with a picture of Djon. Somewhat strangely, there are many games based on guiding strange blocks of pixels around onscreen, and they sit slightly at odds with the other, more urban-inspired minigames. That's not to say they're boring, though, as you'll often be trying to swallow up pixels of different colours or avoiding those of a certain colour. It's a game that you really have to see in action to understand, but these pixel-based games are fine little diversions in their own right.
For Hot Pixel, the Wario Ware comparisons are somewhat inevitable. Nintendo's series has appeared on the DS and Wii, among other platforms, whereas Hot Pixel is restricted to the more traditional input methods of the PlayStation Portable. In reality, the game is inventive enough to get by with this simple control system, and it means that you can pick up most of its minigames with ease. And as with Wario Ware, you'll need to play the games over and over to score the highest number of points.
Aside from the main game itself, Hot Pixel has been fleshed out with plenty of extra modes and challenges to keep you occupied. Atari has promised to make more levels available as downloadable content, and custom playlists will be uploaded to the Hot Pixel Web site. As you progress, all games and videos will be accessible individually via the main menu, and the game keeps track of which games you like playing and those that you're best at. In addition to this, there's a two-player wireless game mode where you can challenge friends to a minigame face-off. Look out for more information on the latter in our review.
Hot Pixel has some nice ideas, a cool visual style, and an infectious enthusiasm that runs through the entire game. The minigame genre has been pretty much monopolised by Wario Ware, but Hot Pixel is likely to find its own niche on the PSP. Having said that, it also seems like a good fit for the Nintendo consoles, so if the PSP and PC versions are successful, we can only hope that the game will make the jump. In the meantime, the PSP version is set for release in Europe on June 22, so if you're a minigame fan, you might want to get those thumbs at the ready.