Despite my reservations, the original Game Boy Advance version of Wario Ware quickly became one of my favorite portable games. There was just something about the lighting fast mini games (often only taking two or three seconds to complete) that appealed to me, I spent hours on end trying to see and do everything. Apparently I'm not alone, because Atari's newest PSP game, Hot Pixel, is so much like Nintendo's mini-game collection that I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of legal action.
The term "hot pixel" comes from when an LCD screen has a noticeable defective pixel, which just so happened to be the problem the PSP faced when it launched two years ago. If the naming of the game seems snarky, then you haven't seen anything yet. Hot Pixel is the brainchild of Jonathon "Djon" Choquel, the creative director (and self proclaimed "hero" of Hot Pixel) at the France-based studio, zSlide. It's a quirky little mini-game collection that blurs the line between nostalgic and old looking. For the most part their work pays off, but it's not without a few hitches that keep this game from hitting the same high notes as Nintendo's mini-game collections.
Hot Pixel is an extremely easy game to describe to people that have never played it (or even heard of it). Imagine a collection of mini-games that all last about four seconds long, it's your job to complete each of the mini-games they throw at you before time runs out and then move on to the next one. To complete a mini-game you have to do what it tells you, which could be anything from shoot enough bad guys to eat junk food to pick up enough pink dots. The excitement of the game is that you never know what's coming next, the only thing you know is that the games are coming at you fast and you don't have a lot of time to think about what you're doing.
At its best Hot Pixel has a truly inspired collection of bite-sized mini-games. There's pure genius in games where you have to fight through a crowd to go to the bathroom, look around the city for the best cell phone reception, guiding a drunk homeless man through a maze to get more alcohol, arm wrestle a 2D cartoon, and clean your bathroom with a toothbrush. The things it makes you do are meant to make you laugh and have a good time; the actual gameplay seems to be secondary when it comes to this mini-game collection.
One of the most endearing aspects of Wario Ware was the non-stop barrage of old school Nintendo references, from classic characters to entire mini-games that use elements from Star Fox, F-Zero, Gyromite and Super Mario Bros. Luckily Atari has a strong old school catalog to fall back on, so expect to see Hot Pixel populated by such classic arcade hits as Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Major Havoc, Battlezone and Tempest. It's great to see these classic games brought back for this game, but it would have been nice to see a bigger variety of retro games, including more references to Atari's various home consoles (and maybe even the Lynx and Jaguar).
The game sports more than 200 mini-games, but don't let that bullet point on the box fool you. While it's technically true that there are over 200 games to be found in this box, a majority of them repeat the same goal. For example, I ran into a dozen or more levels where all I was supposed to do was pick up the pink dots and avoid anything black (walls, dots, you name it). While this mini-game is enjoyable enough, the idea of counting each of these slight variations as a different game seems to be nothing more than a tricky way of padding your numbers. Thankfully there's still a lot of good stuff found in the game, but expect a lot of repeating fluff that can sometimes get in the way. Sadly the majority of the mini-games aren't nearly as inspired as the best elements of the game.
Believe it or not Hot Pixel actually has a story mode ... kind of. The game gives you the option of going through ten episodes, each with their own group of crazy mini-games for you to play. Even this smacks of a Nintendo rip-off, since Wario Ware did exactly the same thing four years ago. Unlike Nintendo's game, you will have to play all ten episodes in the correct order, there's no way for you to skip around or try out more advanced levels. But that turns out to not be that big of a deal since it will take you less than an hour to beat all then episodes. That's right; this game's "story" mode takes you less than an hour to beat. After you've played through the game on the default difficulty the game rewards you with a slightly harder difficulty, but even with the increased challenge you will still fly right through this game without much of a problem.
The good news is that you don't have to play through the episodes every time you want to play, you can always go to "Instant Play" and get in a game where you just get one mini-game after another until you've lost all your lives (and hopefully accumulated a high score). This is probably the most fulfilling way to play the game, at its best the game is just a frenetic collection of funny mini-games and the best way to see them is in a complete random order. The game is very scatterbrained, but that's probably a large part of the reason you'll enjoy the game (or hate it).
On top of all of those crazy mini-games you also get a number of bizarre videos to compliment the action. These videos star Jonathon Choquel performing crazy acts, such as doing laundry, trying to destroy public property, skateboarding and trying to DJ a club. Oddly enough these short videos add to the style and mood Hot Pixel is trying to put forth, which is a "hip" vibe where everybody loves to skateboard and immerse themselves in hip hop culture. Expect a great deal of the games look and mini-games to have something to do with either skateboarding or hip hop, as that seems to be what the developers are into. Thankfully you don't have to like skateboarding and rap in order to like this game, but it will definitely help you get into the mood.
The graphic style is all over the board. While some games have incredibly detailed images, the majority are very simplistic. Don't confuse the simple look of the game with it not having its own visual style, because Hot Pixel is all about the style. Even when it's just you in the menu screens, Hot Pixel features retro looking characters that should take most older gamers back to their youth (in a good way). Sometimes that style gets lost amongst the boring mini-games, but for the most part the game stays consistent with its classic look. This isn't the best looking game of the year, but it's definitely one of the most unusual.
It won't take long for you to play everything there is to experience in Hot Pixel; you can unlock every mini-game and find all of the bonus material in a matter of a few hours. So what do you do when you run out of new gameplay? You download the newest content, of course. In a surprising move, Atari has decided to support Hot Pixel with downloadable content. Even though not all of it is as inspired as the best games on the UMD, I do like the idea of getting a bunch of new mini-games for free. Hopefully Atari will listen to my pleas to get more Lynx and Jaguar references into the game.
From the moment you turn the game on it's clear that Hot Pixel wants to be the next Wario Ware. Unfortunately the game is never quite as good as what Nintendo was able to do four years ago, which is a real shame. In some ways this game feels like a missed opportunity, there is a real need for a Wario Ware-style mini-game collection for the PSP. That doesn't mean it has to be a blatant rip-off, but Hot Pixel is a step in the right direction. Sadly this game just isn't exciting enough and there's an inconsistent level of quality in the various mini-games. I would like to see what zSlide can do with an original game, they clearly have a unique voice ... but it feels like it's wasted on this Wario Ware clone.
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If it looks like Wario Ware and plays like Wario Ware, then chances are it's Wario Ware. But it's not; instead it's Hot Pixel, a game that is desperately trying to be Wario Ware. This bizarre mini-game collection isn't bad, it's just not as inspired as it needs to be to catch up with what Nintendo is doing.