[Review] Pixel Gladiator – Nintendo Switch

Written by Akio Kahoshi
  • Developer: Flying Islands Team
  • Publisher: Drageus Games
  • Release date: 25/10/2019
  • Price: £6.29 / $6.99
  • Review code provided by Drageus Games

Intro

You are the sole human left alone on an alien world. Your only mission: to survive as long as possible for the amusement of others. Hordes of monsters will come in endlessly greater waves until eventually you are overwhelmed. It is not a matter of if you will die, but when.

DEATH IS INEVITABLE

The basic premise of Pixel Gladiator, as stated above, is to survive endless waves of monsters for as long as possible. You fail if your reactor is destroyed, or your gladiator runs out of health. A typical wave sends two groups of monsters, one from each side. The goal is to kill them using the array of weapons and other devices, but if you kill them outside the range of the cameras (and thus the view of the spectators) you do not get any money for the kill. Money that is critical to building up your defenses. It then is a trade-off. Do you kill the enemies at range to give yourself more time, or wait to earn as much money as possible?

Choices like that, and deciding what upgrades to purchase, and when, are as critical to survival in this game as your skill moving around the stage and shooting the enemies. A well-constructed base and survive without too much assistance, in that regard you can think of the game like a tower defense game. Still, no matter how much you build up your defenses you are going to see the death screen a lot. This game is no cakewalk.

This is a game about learning how best to build up your defenses, but it also requires a bit of luck. As the enemies are randomized, you can easily be overwhelmed by a wave you were not prepared for.

A DEARTH OF CHOICE

No, $9000 is not a lot.

Upgrade choices aside, this game is bare-bones when it comes to features. The one thing I noticed immediately is there are four modes in this game, but really there are only two. Survival, Arena 1, Arena 2, and Arena 3. Survival is the main mode of this game, the arcade-style endless mode where the high score is your only reward, and ranking in the leaderboard the only thing you have to show for playing. The three Arena modes, while listed separately, function the same. You are given a set amount of money to start and are expected to survive a preset amount of waves. The trade-off is your base building options are more limited, increasing the difficulty in the process.

The difference between the three is the amount of money you start with, and the location you are fighting in. Arena 1 shares the same map as survival mode, while the other two offer more unique experiences. After playing survival mode a few times, the different backgrounds were a nice change of pace, and that these can be beaten gives players that do not like endless games something to enjoy as well.

Even still, there is not a lot of variety in the game itself. Once you beat the Arenas the Survival mode is all that is left. Perhaps more maps for the survival mode, even if just cosmetically different, would have helped break up the gameplay. I also only heard a single BGM, but it was inoffensive and fit into the action well enough I barely even noticed it. No one will be wanting the OST for this game, but it does what it needs to.

HAZARD PAY

Moments before disaster

While there may not be many modes to the game, the actual gameplay is surprisingly fun once you get the base building down. It also provides a large variety of upgrades in survival mode, from walls to auto-turrets, to a mech(!). The walls are the cheapest and best initial defenses, but the moment a wave breaks through you have lost a huge investment. Weapons and drones cannot be lost, but are expensive and cannot cover all sides at once.

The controls on a controller took me a second to get used to, up is your jump and B is reload. Once I had these down though, I felt free to move around the screen with the games ridiculously high jumps. A good thing too, because the screen quickly becomes chaotic as the waves increase in intensity.

There is also a decent variety of enemies you encounter, as well as palette swaps of the enemies on occasion (changing your UI to match to keep with the 8-bit theme), which helps break up visual boredom. The waves come in two types: a set number of enemies, and swarms. The set number of enemies is exactly that, and once you kill those enemies the wave is done. These are the primary waves and the ones that will attack your base directly. 

The swarms require you to kill a constant attack of enemies, whittling down a health bar until the wave ends. Occasionally these swarms will drop useful items, such as a lens that increases camera distance. The swarms did not seem to pose any danger to the base, it instead being more about your Gladiator fighting them off personally. Aside from the auto-turrets, the base defenses proved fairly ineffective.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a game that has a surprising amount of depth to it, despite its general simplicity. While it certainly would have benefited from additional maps and music, they do not detract from what the core game is about: survival. It provides a chaotic combat experience and would feel at home in any 90s arcade.

PROS

  • Simple, but precise controls
  • Lots of variety in enemy types
  • Interesting choices while building your base

CONS

  • Very little variety in modes
  • Tough, the waves scale very quickly in difficulty
  • The same background and music every time you play

Verdict

If you like Arcade-style survival games where the high score is the only reward, this is certainly a game you will enjoy. If you want something with story or rogue-like progression, look elsewhere.

3/5

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