Remember those visualization features for Windows Media Player and Winamp where waves and lines of colour would undulate and dance to the beat of whatever music you were listening to? That is pretty much what playing Pixel Pi Games’ Pulse feels like; like being inside one of those visual add-ons.
Pulse is what happens when you take a first-person narrative and remove the most fundamental element of it (in this case, vision) to create something new. Funded through Kickstarter, it’s a story that puts you in the body of Eva, a blind girl who has learned to ‘see’ using sound.
As you move through the world, sounds resonate around and bounce back a colourful interpretation of the landscape around you, allowing you to traverse with relative ease. Along the way you encounter a strange black bird that imparts warnings and cryptic messages that relate to the game’s story and the young protagonist who is tasked with saving her collapsing civilization from ultimate peril.
Standing still for a second turns the world pitch black save for a few twinkles, but you won’t be standing still for long, as the game urges you to continue, often at great rapidity over crumbling platforms and other dangers; terrain which would be most suited for someone with visual integrity. However, Eva is a willing character and her impairment does not perturb her.
Besides, she’s not alone. Eva’s quest is aided by Pokémon-style characters if the Pokémon creators only made toys that dangle from the rearview mirror of your car. Referred to as Moko, they are an adorable plushy-like ball of innocence that are drawn towards Eva where she can pick them up and bounce them about the world.
In the initial stages, I thought their sole purpose was to amuse Eva (read: the player) as they tumble and ricochet off the walls as though a light hearted bit of comedy relief in an otherwise dim (that pun is staying) setting. Turns out though that they are used for revealing more of the path ahead of you.
Throwing one in front of you will bounce back a clearer image of what lies ahead. While it’s sort of amusing to watch them be flung hither and thither before returning straight back to you for more unbridled punishment, I felt their addition served little more than as cute companions. Their only real use came in the form of hamster wheel-controlled door switches, which accommodate one of the little critters.
They also came in handy in one level where I was required to traverse a dangerous patch of thin ice. Hurling them onto the frozen land revealed where the weakest points were and made for an interesting puzzle element to the game. But when the critters promptly fucked off at one point, leaving me high and dry (so to speak), our bond was forever broken.
Of course, Pulse is not without its share of enemies. But in true survival fashion, there is no method of fighting back. However, dangers are scarcely prominent save for a few polygonal wolf creatures, a swimming leviathan that didn’t seem to be any threat under its frozen lake habitat, and a giant War Of The Worlds-style monstrosity that strode through various parts of the land, seemingly unaware of my presence.
The real dangers come from the game’s environment, such as the aforementioned ice lake, steep cliff faces and precariously balanced platforms, all of which appear more as a test for Eva rather than part of a natural landscape.
The game is short, but definitely has the potential to be something much bigger. While the world is juxtaposingly colourful and quite pretty, there are times when the sound moves about you in wave patterns, which can become a little disorientating. Its obvious motif is to confuse the player, making for a more difficult play through, but it actually felt a little nauseating at times (an epileptic warning also wouldn’t go amiss in the game’s title sequence).
The main hook here though is the obvious blindness, and it actually is a great idea, but you do sometimes forget about it as you move through the shifting colours that make up the world. I’m not sure if this was intentional – to make you feel like you had already grown accustomed to not having sight – but it soon becomes less of a hindrance and game progress continues unabated.
Despite the adorable Moko creatures that spring towards you like adoptable bunnies and the seemingly tranquil nature of the surroundings you can make out, there is a haunting vibe to the overall game. Who is it that threatens your land? What garbled language does the mysterious black bird speak? And is it not the height of cruelty to bestow an heroic quest on a blind girl?
It’s almost like an ironic pilgrimage, a twisted journey through a peaceful, yet troubled, land. With its polygonal graphics and ambiguous story, there is an element of Euclidean in the mix, but with more of a lean towards the innocent rather than the absurd.
Pulse is the ultimate juxtaposition; a dark tale presented in vibrant colours where sight is removed in a world that requires it. It’s a sober fantasy in a realm that puts a seemingly powerless character through a series of powerful and enduring challenges.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was provided to us.
What Pixel Pi Games have with Pulse is a charming tale of peril and danger, all thrown squarely at a character with a major disadvantage.