Pixel Ripped 1995 takes everything that made its predecessor, Pixel Ripped 1989, and cranks the nostalgia up to 11 without missing a beat. Read our full review for more details!
When Pixel Ripped 1989 released back in 2018, I deeply enjoyed the obvious and gratuitous amount of pure nostalgia baiting. Everything from Mega Man to Mario and Gameboys was overtly parodied and celebrated in a way that only VR could allow. Using society’s greatest and most immersive piece of modern technology in conjunction with memories of the past is powerful and supremely enjoyable.
The premise here is a little complex in theory but simple in execution: you are Dot, a video game character that needs to save the digital and physical world from an evil, magical wizard. To do so, you take over the body of a young boy that’s very good at video games named David (wow, great name) and guide him through a series of challenges. Not only do you embody the child playing games past bedtime in Blockbuster-style rental stores and more but you also eventually find yourself inside many of the games themselves. It’s a very trippy and extremely cool Inception-like experience.
Playing Pixel Ripped is really like playing two games at once that co-exist across two different layers. On the one hand, you’re physically pressing buttons on VR controllers that correspond to virtual buttons on a gamepad inside the VR world to control a character on a VR screen. But then at the same time, the VR world, not the game your character is playing, is still happening around you.
Since David’s mom hates video games and thinks they’re bad for you (again, a very 90s thing for a parent to believe) you need to distract her to keep playing, or avoid alerting her that you’re still awake playing games late at night. It’s a clever and delicate balance.
Pixel Ripped 1995 is definitely easier than 1989. The first entry relied heavily on trial-and-error style mechanics and tricky platforming to force deaths and require repeating levels. This time, there’s just a lot more variety all around. You’ll go from a mixture of Super Metroid and Castlevania to a top-down action-adventure RPG similar to The Legend of Zelda before switching back to a racing scene or another platformer more akin to Sonic the Hedgehog. In this way, developer ARVORE has written a finely constructed love letter to the 90s and 16-bit eras of video games.
In the first game it would sometimes feel like a chore or like a gimmick occasionally, but this time around there’s a lot more variety. Not only do you play games in David’s bedroom, but in the living room of the home, at the previously-mentioned video game rental store, at an arcade, and more. In this way, the world feels more fully realized and fleshed out.
On the flip side of all that, Pixel Ripped relies very heavily on the strength of its nostalgia hooks and environmental detail over its characters. All of the pixelized game characters are shallow and one-dimensional without any development and the voice acting (for David’s mom especially) just doesn’t sound very good. The only memorable character is a young boy named Mike that serves as a semi-rival, semi-bully, for David that puts on a good face when adults are around. It feels like a missed opportunity to not lean into the characters and storytelling more here.
It’s easy to look past those gaps though. I was born in 1990, so I grew up in this exact era of video games. The Sega Genesis is the first game console I had entirely to myself after my brothers moved out and took the NES / SNES. Getting to play a VR game that put me in the shoes of a young boy that needed to play clones of Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Zelda, Metroid, and more to save the world — yeah, that hits pretty strongly for me.
Fortunately, ARVORE doesn’t fall into the same trap that plagued Path of the Warrior from Twisted Pixel. In that game, which is heavily inspired by sidescrolling beat ’em ups such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight, players take on the role of a character from the first-person perspective. You go through levels, punching enemies, and poking around colorful environments for a couple hours before packing it up. It’s super basic and bare bones.
The problem with that is not every genre under the sun needs to be remade for first-person VR, or put into VR at all. Instead of putting you in the shoes of game characters you don’t know and trying and fabricate a sense of familiarity while being inside the game, Pixel Ripped has you reminisce about what it was like to be the kid in front of the screen that’s playing the game. That’s where the power of nostalgia lies, especially when paired with VR.
One of the main downsides to Pixel Ripped overall is that it lacks any real depth at all. If you find yourself truly enjoying one of the games and really want to play it more or keep going past the pre-determined chunks it has you play through, you can’t. Just how thin the illusion is becomes apparent when you realize how linear the experience is, how you can’t move around any environments at all, and you’re essentially just playing through a series of demos that do little more than imitate shadows of the games that inspired them.
It’s extremely fun, memorable, and very nostalgic, but it’s certainly a one-trick pony. You could play it again to look around more and try to find things you may have missed, but I’d wager the vast majority of people won’t get much more out of Pixel Ripped 1995 other than the prescribed ~5 hours it takes to finish — and that’s totally fine.
Pixel Ripped 1995 Review: Final Verdict
Pixel Ripped 1995 is a bigger, bolder, and even more nostalgic walk down memory lane that shifts the focus from the late 80s to the early 90s — perhaps the most iconic and formative decade of the video game industry to date. By mixing together riffs off of popular games such as Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, and more, Pixel Ripped is a sleek and powerful blast of nostalgia that brings back potent memories of hunching over CRT TVs in the dead of night playing games. I want to spend more time in this world and get to know its characters even better and this is a truly solid improvement over Pixel Ripped 1989.
Final Score: 4/5 Stars | Really Good
You can read more about our five-star scoring policy here.
Pixel Ripped 1995 releases on April 23rd at a price of $19.99 for PC VR on Steam, the Oculus Store for Rift, and Quest. The PSVR version releases in May. This review was conducted using a Steam version of the game using Oculus Rift S with two Touch controllers.