Alt254 Little Magic Pixel Dust

Small things come in in small packages, and Alt254 is beautiful in its own little way. Out now on Steam.

Christ, look at these graphics! What a load of crap. If that’s your first response and you’re still gawping at the screenshots, then the Path of Gaming Enlightenment isn’t for you. Alt254 is so much more than the 21×26 pixels it exhibits.

If maths isn’t your forte, those dimensions are tinchy, and make the Gameboy Advance look like the cinema. But this minimalist approach is what makes this adventure so unique. At times, you’re deciphering a pixel’s functions on the screen; other times, you’re trying to stay alive.

Alt254, from Rename Studio, is the evolution of mobile games, where Snake was pioneering – commercial break, read the Pako Caravan reviews – but this game takes it up a notch. That doesn’t mean you’re chasing your tail in the game, but there’s a whole bag of emphasis on exploration.

Alt254 - Ultrasound
Ultrasound. Source: Steam

Many of us get the horn for minimalism, so how does that fare in the game? It works pretty well, but it can be tricky to find your path because of the lack of detail. Lack of detail is unfair in a game where you are represented by a single pixel. You’d be surprised just how much depth it has. However, it’s recommended to play in a smaller resolution as the text is borderline unreadable when blown up.

With regards to those details, it’s because you can’t differentiate what’s friend or foe. Yes, that’s the charm of a game about exploration and self-discovery, finding hair in new places, or being attracted to the corners of tables. So for that reason, there’s a lot of trial and error, and that requires patience.

Do you want a quotable tagline? Alt254 is the Dark Souls of pixel art. That’s lazy, but there’s a 1×1 pixel truth in that. Exploration is encouraged, and locating lost memories to find out what kind of pixel you were before ‘the incident’, but wandering around without restraint is not allowed in games, and enemies will pursue you.

Other enemies aren’t always noticeable due to the dimensions, but you’ll feel it in your water as you approach them as they expand and try to chase you down. They aren’t looking to make friends, so when they do catch you, they will take off energy, and even murder death kill you.

Alt254 - Flat Earth
A flat Earth. Source: Steam

On death, you’ll respawn back to a bonfire and change your loadout, and invest in a bit more dex and stamina. Ha! But really, you do respawn and go to a well-type thing that will revive you but will also bring back the baddies once more. They literally can get in the way of your progress, and at times, more of a hindrance when you’re working out what terrain is safe for you to pass through (falling, drowning and what-not are commonplace).

Alt254 isn’t an angry game. Despite its orchestrated limitations, it’s mostly fair. Movement is a four-direction set up with a dash that you can execute on enemies and get across chasms. The key use is making haste when triggering a door switch – it requires a lot of precision and accuracy, but again, it’s very much fair.

As for the map, it’s pretty big and diverse enough to offer enough challenge, and the door puzzles are engaging, but some do border on cursing at the monitor as there’s no room for error. You kids are into that chirpy bleepy bonky music, but having been there back in the day; I don’t miss it, so the soundtrack wasn’t for me.

It’s such an unusual experience, taking a step back and all. Would I have sought this out or downloaded it on the off chance? Besides not having the time to casually pick out games to indulge in, Alt254 didn’t catch my eye at all, and was highlighted to me as available for a review. 

Alt254 - Reds of their eyes
Reds of their eye. Source: Steam

If an indie title has a decent premise, gameplay mechanics or the developer has given a solid ‘passion project’ speech that’s infectious enough to investigate; then it’s worth the effort. Alternatively, if offered a review code to give an indie game exposure, I’m all for it pending it’s worth recommending.

In summary, Alt254 was/is well worth that chance, and I’d encourage you to have a look for yourself if you want something different and used to squinting at small things.

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