Pix the Cat

A game by Pasta Games for PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, PS4, Vita, and Switch, originally released in 2015.
Pix the Cat is an arcade-style action game starring Pix, the big-headed blue cat who got his start in Arkedo Series 03 - Pixel! on Xbox Live Indie Games. Since then, the pixelated puss has visited other platforms via a port of his original game and the release of Pix’n Love Rush on mobile devices. In his first outing, Pix explored a traditional blocky platforming environment designed to mimic LCD-based titles, only with considerably more vibrant visuals. In addition to hopping and bopping on enemies’ heads and unleashing “meow.wav” projectiles, Pix could also enter individual blocks and move around in a zoomed-in world… and this concept carries over into his latest adventure.

Pix the Cat begins with only an Arcade Mode available, although there are three other modes that become available as the player reaches certain thresholds: Laboratory, Nostalgia, and Arena.

Arcade Mode
There is only one level available at the start of the game, in the form of the Starter Grid, which explains the basic rules and then drops the player into the action to figure things out. Eventually, the player opens up the Main Grid (which is key to opening the other modes), and skilled players will eventually unlock the Dessert Grid, which drastically increases the challenge with more complex layouts and loads of enemies. Per arcade conventions, the rules are simple to understand and difficult to master, and the challenge increases with every bit of progress the player makes.

Each level of “The Grid of Infinity” consists of a single-screen arena, populated with a number of eggs and an equal number of places to drop them off. The goal of the game is to collect all of the eggs – which immediately hatch into ducklings – and get them to the drop-off points. As the eggs hatch, a trail of ducklings streams behind the player, following his every move. Just as in the classic game Snake, each egg adds a single segment to the tail, which grows ever longer as more eggs are collected, and the player must be careful not to run into his trail of ducklings.

While ducklings may be dropped off whenever the player likes, additional bonus points are awarded for collecting all of the eggs before dropping any of them off, encouraging players to grow their tails as long as possible. Being an arcade-style game, this is an entirely score-driven experience, with new modes and other unlockables opening as the player betters his point totals, and leaderboards to compete for the best standings.

Once all of the ducklings have been dropped off, the player is free to enter the next deeper level of the grid, shown as a miniature arena within a block or off the edge of the screen. The player is able to see this upcoming level, as well as the placement of eggs, drop-off points, and enemies. Often, there is more than one entrance into the next area, and looking ahead helps the player to determine which entrance is most suitable. Often, all of the eggs are placed near one entrance, and the drop-off points are placed near the other, making the door near the eggs the optimal path.

Each run through the grid is timed, so players must move as quickly as possible in order to move from one level to the next and accumulate the biggest possible scores. As long as the player doesn’t make any mistakes – such as hitting the trail of ducklings or colliding with an enemy – a meter across the top of the screen steadily fills. As the meter fills, the player’s speed increases, as does his point multiplier, with 2x, 5x, and 10x sections marked on the meter, and a huge scoring opportunity for unlocking Fever Time by maxing out the meter.

Making it into Fever Time causes all of the visuals to shift into a techno overdose of light, color, and sound, as the player’s speed increases to barely-manageable levels and putting his reaction times to the test. Here, the player’s score increases quickly, and keeping Fever Time going is key to breaking the one million point barrier.

There are a few ways for the player to screw up and hurt his combo, thus lowering the point multiplier and ending Fever Time. The lowest penalty is for the player to drop off an egg before picking all of them up. Doing this causes the remaining eggs in the area to crack, and the combo meter drops a bit. A higher penalty is given for players who don’t choose a direction quickly enough when running into a solid wall or their own tail.

Unlike Snake, the player isn’t killed when running headlong into walls or his trail of ducklings; rather, time slows down and the player has a brief moment in which to choose a valid direction – with arrows highlighting the possible choices. The window for this is quite forgiving, making this an unlikely way for the player to meet his end… unless the player has painted himself into a corner and has no way out.

This can be easy to do when your tail has grown so long that it fills most of the arena, and you’re moving at a blazing fast speed. Doing this ends your combo and also destroys every duckling in the trail, thus reducing the possible points that you could have scored by dropping them off.

Finally, there are spiked balls and patrolling skull enemies that work in much the same way, dropping the combo meter if you crash into them. However, skulls may be destroyed by running straight into them during Fever Time, offering a score bonus for doing so, and allowing the player to turn the tables on these pesky patrolling foes. Any mistakes the player makes will drop the combo meter, reducing the point multiplier and also slowing the player’s movement speed somewhat.

While arenas are essentially identical with each playthrough, players will find that they are sometimes flipped horizontally or vertically, and sometimes the egg layouts are changed slightly, so players still need to pay attention on each run.

As you move deeper into the grid, layouts become more complex, with more opportunities to accidentally drop off eggs, trap yourself with your own trail, or run into skulls or spike balls. In some instances, the player must move down into a deeper arena, collect some eggs, and then move back to a higher level and re-enter from the other side. Zooming in and out of these areas can sometimes be a bit disorienting – particularly given the player’s potentially high speeds – and a fraction of a second can mean the difference between a perfect run and an unceremonious defeat.

Moving through the maze works in the same way as it does in Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, which is to say that players can “preload” a direction change, pressing in the direction that they would like to move before actually reaching the corner. This makes movement smoother and easier to handle at high speeds. However, doing so also causes your combo meter to fill more quickly, which means that advanced players can use this as a strategy to increase their combo meter earlier in the game and reach higher scores before time runs out.

As mentioned, leaderboards are in place for players to compete for the top standings. In addition, players may unlock new announcer voices to accompany their runs, as well as play against their own ghosts, friends’ ghosts, or developers’ ghosts in order to find the best scoring strategies.

Laboratory Mode
Laboratory Mode is a far more relaxed experience, offering 100 puzzle-based levels with no countdown timers, no combos, and no Fever Time. Instead, each level offers a secondary challenge in the form of a par number of moves, rewarding players for completing levels as efficiently as possible. Still, some of these puzzles eventually become a bit mind-bending, making completion itself a difficult prospect in later levels. Rather than eggs and ducklings, these levels are built around a laboratory theme, with the player collecting and dropping off cells.

Movement is handled differently in this mode. Rather than moving Pix freely, the cat can only be sent off in a given direction, and he will keep moving until he hits a solid object, whether that be wall or his trail of cells. At that point, the player may press in a new direction. This complicates basic navigation as the player must think strategically about how to get from one part of the environment to another without wasting moves, and occasionally use his own trail as a tool. Unlike the main Arcade Mode, the level ends immediately if the player touches an enemy or drops off even a single cell without collecting them all.

Levels are self-contained and must be completed in order, and failing a challenge requires that the player start it again. New complexities are added as the difficulty escalates, including cells that bounce Pix back through the collected cells, teleporters that send the player hopping around the arena, and multiple cats that are all controlled simultaneously.

Nostalgia Mode
Nostalgia Mode offers another 70 levels, this time themed around black-and-white cartoons from the 1920’s and 1930’s, particularly Felix the Cat. In this mode, the player is tasked with collecting a specified number of eggs, with a secondary goal of grabbing them all before the timer runs down – which is represented by an anthropomorphized flower moving slowly toward the mouth of a waiting goat.

As with the Arcade Mode, eggs hatch upon collection, but levels don’t feature any drop-off points, which means that the trail of hatchlings keeps growing longer and longer as levels continue. Some levels also feature transitions into lower and higher layers, as well as teleporters, giving the player several different ways in which to manage his growing trail… and several new ways to mess up. While the cat’s speed doesn’t increase over time, some levels have the cat running at high speed from the very start.

Running into your trail, getting stuck, or hitting an enemy spells instant death and a level restart. Unlike the Laboratory Mode, the player is given three jokers, which he may use to skip ahead if he’s having trouble on a given level.

Once again, things occasionally get complicated in challenges where the player must control several cats at once, often locked in separate parts of the environment. Unlike the turn-based Laboratory Mode, players must keep a watchful eye to ensure that none of the copycats run into danger. Mushrooms act similarly to the bouncing cells in Laboratory Mode, pushing the cat to the end of the duckling trail and allowing him to reverse directions.

Some levels feature owls, which let the player stop for a moment and “stack” his collected birds. This acts as a temporary drop-off point as the birds move together for a moment, allowing the player to backtrack or cross over into areas that would have been blocked by his own trail. When the player begins moving again, the trail rebuilds itself to its former length using the owl as its origin point. Using this tactic as a crutch also makes levels take more time to complete, reducing chances of the player earning a bonus by saving the flower from getting chomped.

Arena Mode
Finally, there is Arena Mode, featuring 2-4P competitive multiplayer across seven maps (this mode was originally a Playstation exclusive but is now available on all platforms). In this mode, players collect eggs that act as ammunition to be used against their opponents. White eggs can be fired off to stun other players temporarily, and colored eggs – which appear much less frequently – can be used as rockets or mines. Mines, represented by green eggs, are tricky because they are visually indistinguishable from the pickup itself, which means that players may be tricked into moving over them and destroying themselves.

Players can also dash forward, which consumes ammunition, but dashing into another player will kill him. Players dashing into each other will continue to consume ammo until one of them runs out and is destroyed, leading to the potential for some frenzied jousting. Players can wreak additional havoc by running into opponents’ trails, which breaks every egg behind that point, potentially destroying a great deal of the enemy’s ammunition… or their own if they run into their own trail by mistake.

Some arenas even feature deeper levels, allowing players to retreat to these sections, but the action zooms in once other players join. The first player to reach three kills wins the match. In 3P and 4P matches, killed players come back as hopping ghosts, trading places with living players if they make contact.

Pix the Cat was developed by Pasta Games (or Pastagames), a studio founded in Paris, France by Fabien Delpiano, Fabrice Kocik, Nadim Haddad, and HervĂ© Barbaresi. The character of Pix was originally created for Arkedo Series 03 - Pixel!, a collaboration between Pasta Games and the now-defunct Arkedo Studio (Arkedo Series, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit). Pasta Games also developed another game starring Pix - Pix’n Love Rush - as well as a number of other titles, including Rayman Jungle Run, Burn it All, and Maestro! Jump in Music.

Computer versions of the game were published by Focus Home Interactive, also based in Paris, France. The studio has published loads of games for multiple platforms, including a number of Sherlock Holmes titles, as well as multiple entries in the TrackMania, Tour de France, Blood Bowl, and Farming Simulator series.