Pixel Ranger on iPhone: This retro beauty craves a joystick and buttons

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Pixel RangerThis is the type of game that will make you reach for the quarter slot that doesn't exist on your iPhone. MetroGames, most recently known for Coco Girl on Facebook, has released an iPhone version of its gloriously retro Facebook game, Pixel Ranger, for $.99 on the App Store (published by Chillingo of Angry Birds fame).

In a nutshell, the game embodies everything you remember of classic, upward-facing shooter games like Galaga and 1942, only without the rosy colored glasses. You are Pixel Ranger (no, really?), and token pixelated aliens have kidnapped your lady and even your horse--the nerve.

And you're gonna' muster every last pixel to crush the baddies and bring them back. And if you haven't played the original on Facebook, you will quickly realize that was more than mere flavor text. Every shot you make with Pixel Ranger's buckshot by tapping above or below him consumes ammo, or pixels, which also happen to be his life source. Of course, the only way to replenish your life is by downing more enemies that drop more ammo pixels to the ground.

Because being hit by enemies or their projectiles takes a chunk of your pixels, this all creates an interesting balance between survival and attack, but more importantly makes accuracy paramount across the game's 12 acts and over 50 levels. And that's just in Classic Mode, in which each episode has a finite ending that rates your accuracy and other scores. In Endless Mode, however, you're simply going for the highest score and to last the longest across three stages. But to unlock all three, you must play through Classic Mode to the bitter end.
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And unfortunately, there isn't a better word to describe reaching close to the end than "bitter." Granted, Pixel Ranger is a beautifully-drawn homage to the classic games you'd find yourself easily dropping 20 bucks worth of quarters into as a kid. But with that comes tribute to just how mind-numbingly difficult those iconic games were. Pixel Ranger is one tough game, and that's not only thanks to the swarms of enemies you'll face in later levels. To put it bluntly, the iPhone's only method of control, its touchscreen, becomes a hindrance. (Moving the little guy from left to right is done by tilting the device.)

Pixel Ranger on iPhone gameplayThere is simply not enough room for both of your thumbs to jump--something you'll almost always forget to do when the baddies sneak up from underneath you--and shoot while getting a good view at just what in the world is going on. With a mouse and keyboard, this game's controls are a cinch on Facebook, but touch-based gameplay simply doesn't equate to accuracy. At least not the accuracy you need to do well in Pixel Ranger's later episodes.

Perhaps the game should have been presented in a landscape orientation rather than upright ... but that would draw from the verticality through which it channels the classics. But forget the touch controls and the orientation. A game that captures the essence of classic arcade cabinet shooters this well deserves more: Pixel Ranger was destined for a joystick and buttons. (Play the game for a long while using just the touch screen and you'll get it.)

Pixel Ranger is both "retro" enough to have you clamoring for some good old Galaxian, and original enough in its design and vibrant pixel art to keep you firing off that pixelated buckshot. That is, until you reach around Act 6 and your thumbs' ability to manage Pixel Ranger's, well, pixels slowly decays. If only for the refreshingly original, vivid nostalgia bomb, it's tough not to recommend Pixel Ranger. Just be prepared for a battle between both pixelated aliens and the screen that covers them.

Click here to download Pixel Ranger from the App Store Now >

Have you tried out Pixel Ranger on iPhone yet, and if so what are your thoughts? What do you think of undeniably retro-themed games that are made today? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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