Zombie survival games appear to be everywhere these days – this is especially true in the Indie genre of games.  I even found myself playing three completely different styles of zombie title recently for The IndieGarden so it usually takes something special for a game to stand out from the already packed crowd of leg-dragging zombie titles.

Fortunately, there are games like Dead Pixels, built from the ground up by one man to be something slightly different.  Dead Pixels was created by CantStraifeRight (CSR) Studios which is a one man project run by John Common. It takes subtle zombie survival mechanics from games such as Left 4 Dead and adds the playability and addictiveness of Arcade classics such as Castle Crashers. It then adds its own unique aspects to the mix to create a wonderfully addictive take on the zombie survival genre.

The graphics in Dead Pixels are kept to a pristinely sharp 8 bit style which I personally love and think that truly successful indie games recently have used to perfection (see my review on both Realm of the Mad God and VolChaos for examples) and whilst being creatively savvy enough to stick with the 8-bit graphic style – CSR Studios have decided to add in the – albeit sometimes slightly clichéd – grindhouse movie filter to the graphics which personally works very well.

Dead Pixels utilises the age old 2.5D effect where your characters are 2D sprites but have the ability to move up and down onscreen giving the effect of 3D, usually this gives raise to the frustration of ‘near misses’ where you believe you are feverishly firing away at an enemy however that enemy happens to be one pixel higher than you so in truth you are completely missing them – this is also present in Dead Pixels however with weapons such as the shotgun I did notice that all nearby zombies got caught in the spray – which I thought was a very nice touch.

You begin Dead Pixels by selecting one of the three chapters and a difficulty setting – the difficulty setting directly relating to how long the game will be (how many streets you travel through) and how tough the zombies will be.

You move through the game dispatching zombies as they appear – you also have the option to run past a lot of the zombies though I would not officially recommend this as it causes some unfortunate zombie-backlog issues which eventually end up catching up with you.  As you  move through the different (and randomly generated) streets you encounter houses and stores which have not been looted, moving towards these will give you items which you can either  use – such as additional guns and ammo, or junk you can sell at the next trader.

Dead Pixels is filled with some great touches which set it apart from the type of carbon copied zombie game which would be instantly forgettable otherwise, the fact that you characters have an encumbrance level which means you are constantly fighting a battle between the loot you pilfer from abandoned houses and the guns you want to take with you ‘just in case’. Also the helpful colour coding between the weapons and the ammo which fuel them means that you can see at a brief glance what you need and what you are picking up.

Another cool feature is that, when playing local co-op, both players are purchasing from the same item pool when you visit a trader, which means that you will need to carefully divide the ammo supply’s in each traders inventory in order to survive.

Oddly, the soundtracks in indie games these days are usually something that is either completely overlooked or frankly ignored by the developers but I’m very happy to say that the soundtrack to Dead Pixels is fast becoming one of my favourite pieces of chip-tune music at the moment. With its carefully thought out blend of 8-bit nostalgic bleeping and its inclusion of some rock riffs it always seems to fit with whatever situation you are playing through – even when you are sat in a trader and a melodic version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is highlighting the desperation of the situation your characters have found themselves in – it’s a wonderful contrast from the high energy action in the streets which otherwise would feel unnecessary but genuinely works well with this title.

Given how amazing I think this game is, I’m not sure if the liberal use of aspects from other franchises (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil) would border on the unimaginative or if the developer is merely paying homage to the franchises which inspired this game.  I suppose that if these references weren’t so blatantly obvious (the ‘Valentine Beretta’ and the ‘Burton Magnum’ for example) then we could easily say that Dead Pixels was simply ripping off other established zombie game franchises but you find yourself quickly overlooking these facts as the game presents itself in a much more approachable way. Without these homages to the other established zombie games with Dead Pixels nuances thrown in, I don’t think the game would work as well as it does.

Dead Pixels is a brilliant game – there is no denying that – this is something you need to accept whilst carefully juggling ammo with your co-op partner and hoping that you can trade in these 14 Cans of Mysterious Meat for additional medikits and precious bullets.

It’s also worth pointing out that Dead Pixels is only 80 Microsoft Points (which is 69p in the UK and approx. $1 in the US) so you have no reason for not already owning this game.  Once you have finished reading this review, go and purchase it. You will not regret it.

Review Score : [starreview tpl=16]
Title : Dead Pixels
Format : XBLIA (XBox Live Indie Arcade)
Developer :  CantStraifeRight Studios
Publisher : Microsoft
Release Date : Out now

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]