Pixel Pile is one of those games that has an entirely literal name. There’s no clever pun or hidden meaning here. In this game, you pile pixels higher and higher, gaining more points for each pixel piled up. Its singular purpose and the carrot on a stick nature of chasing the high score harkens back to the arcade games of old, and it’s as addictive as ever.
You control a small block at the bottom of the screen that you move back and forth by tilting the iPhone. Large pixels fall from the sky that you catch on your little block. Each pixel caught earns you one point and makes the block a little larger and taller. Every time your pile reaches the top of the screen, everything zooms out to make room and the pixels resume falling at a faster speed.
You lose health every time one of the pixels hits the ground and the game continues until you’re all out of health. Your piles take on truly strange shapes as you add pixels and building a nice wide pile is key since it gives you a larger target to work with as the pieces fall faster and faster.
A typical game of Pixel Pile lasts between 1 and 2 minutes. It’s practically the definition of pick up and play and is perfectly suited to something like the iPhone’s on the go nature. It reminds me of playing games in the arcades of my youth, where the games are very short and the only goal is to beat the high score. No story, no motivation, no lives, no nothing — just you and the task at hand. Catch the falling pixels. It sort of reminds me of Canabalt, where you tap to jump and try and live as long as you can.
Since the game is all about high score it’s nice that it offers OpenFeint support so you can compete against other players and try to beat their scores. Since I’m on an iPod Touch and not always connected to the internet OpenFeint is less useful to me, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with an online component and doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Still, it’d be nice to have constant access to the leaderboards.
Sadly however it’s not all puppy dogs and bright red choo-choo trains in the land of Pixel Pile. The game suffers from a few issues that seem like they could be easy fixes but definitely hold the title back. Every once in a while the app becomes laggy and eventually crashes out . The other major problem was that the tile controls aren’t fast enough at the higher levels to really play the game properly. The pixels are falling at a ferocious rate, and tilting the iPod back and forth doesn’t move your pile fast enough to catch everything. It’s frustrating because it’s not your skill that’s causing you to lose, the game simply can’t keep up with itself. The developers need to figure out how Doodle Jump did such a good job and just copy that.
I feel the need to mention that the game never explains how to play it, though I personally don’t see it as an issue. You hit start and go, figuring it out. The gameplay is so simple the only things you need to learn are tilt and catch.
Despite its bugs I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Pixel Pile to the right kind of person. The few issues don’t stop the game from being great, but they do hold it back. It’s worth a purchase, but fingers are crossed for an update to fix the small problems. Those that grew up in arcades, had an Atari in their house in the 80’s, or love quick and fast games will find a good time is to be had with Pixel Pile.