With Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic, developer Bitfather turns back the clock and delivers a very old-school RPG. If the pixel graphics and 8-bit inspired soundtrack aren’t enough to sell you on that point, they even go so far as to render the game in the 4:3 aspect ratio of old CRT monitors and TV’s, with a plain grey background filling in the rest of the screen.
You begin in the town tavern, where a number of heroes are awaiting the next adventure. These are randomly generated from a number of classes, with varying skills, weapons, and attributes. After selecting 3 heroes to form your party, you’ll venture out into the town to seek quests. Here’s where things get a little wonky; once in town, you’ll use the *right* thumbstick to move your party and the left thumbstick to select menu options (talk, enter building, etc.). It’s a little annoying, but once you get your head wrapped around the control scheme, it’s not really a big deal.
Once you leave town for a quest (mostly of the “go to dungeon and kill monster/get item” variety), your party will auto-travel to the dungeon, occasionally stopping along the way to deal with an event. Depending on your reaction to the event, this may result in a battle, getting an item or similar. You’ll probably see a couple of these before reaching the dungeon.
Once in the dungeon, the real action begins. Here, you’ll progress through several battles before reaching the boss. Make sure you’re well prepared (take a healer!) and do your best against the dungeon denizens. Between battles, you have an opportunity to access your inventory to use a potion and change gear before moving forward. Having so many battles in a row with no recourse, but having to press on makes for incredibly difficult, tense situations – the game starts on Hard difficulty, and only goes up from there.
Combat is turn-based, with a twist; instead of each character having a turn, then waiting for each other character before getting to go again, turns alternate between teams. On your turn, you can choose from any of your available characters. This can add some depth to the strategy, as you must make decisions knowing that the enemy will have an opportunity to attack you immediately afterwards. Is it worth trying to heal, only to be attacked again?
To prevent you from simply spamming the same attack/heal over and over, there is also a cooldown system. Each character gets a 1-turn cooldown after being activated, forcing you to use another character on your next turn. Plan carefully, or you might wind up unable to heal at a crucial moment!
In addition to the basic attacks, each character has a few Skills they can use. These are much more powerful than regular attacks, often targeting multiple enemies (or healing your whole team). The interesting thing about these skills is they usually have long cooldowns (15-20 turns) that last between battles – you can get to a boss fight and not be able to use your über-damage skill because you used it 2 battles ago! This means you have to really plan your strategy ahead of time – each turn counts!
Of course, it wouldn’t be an RPG without XP, character leveling, and lots and lots of gear! Pixel Heroes has all of these in spades! The gear system can be a little playful – where else will you find a Mediocre Ring of Mediocrity, but inventory management has a tendency to be cumbersome. You have a limited inventory space and the loot for completing battles tends to add up quickly in dungeons, so you’re constantly evaluating your gear and throwing stuff away (you can only sell things when you’re back in town, and have to complete the dungeon before you can go back). Additionally, there’s no quick way to compare your currently equipped items with ones in your inventory. You have to select each, note the stats, then go and select the other.
All in all, I’d recommend Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic if you’re up for a good challenge. It’s available on Xbox One right now for $9.99. The game is also available on Steam, plus both Android and Apple devices. Check out the official website here.