Pixel Gladiator was released in October 2019 by Flying Island Team, known for their budget puzzle title Mushroom Quest. It is a 2D retro inspired shooter that sees you defend a base against aliens and robots. You have been sent to an abandoned planet for a gameshow Running Man style. As you kill enemies you gain money, much like a traditional tower defence game, but you also have a character to control in real time.
You start as a simple soldier who has a pistol. Your job is to defend your base from enemy attacks and build it up base between rounds. If you have ever played a tower defense games you will have an idea on the mechanics. Each wave of enemies becomes more difficult but you can upgrade your turrets as you progress. The more enemies defeated the more money to spend on upgrades and new equipment. It is simple but you will need to choose wisely between attack and defence.
Most tower defence titles have an isometric view and you click on towers to upgrade. What makes Pixel Gladiator standout is its 2D plane with enemies coming from left, right and above. There is one tower on each side of your base and these slowly build up as you defeat the waves. The towers do have enough upgrades to mix up the gameplay and keep the simple visuals interesting. If you survive beyond 20 waves you will have more complex weapons such as flame traps and aerial guns.
It is not just your towers and base that improves. The titualar Pixel Gladiator has upgrades of his own for you to explore. Simple weapon upgrades from your starter pistol and health upgrades are available at first. But as you progress a support drone and mech are unlocked for you to purchase. Your Gladiator is also used to upgrade the base towers, he is essentially the centralpoint of all things destruction in your little world.
During our playthrough we found that controlling our Pixel Gladiator was fun and responsive. You use both sticks to move and aim your shots as you blast your way through the waves. You can switch weapons on the fly and will need to experiment with what items work to defeat different enemies. The variety of foes to vanquish is vast with everything from simple slug types to full on huge bosses that fill the screen.
The boss fights are standout set pieces that test your skills and ability to avoid and fire at the same time. The random generated waves also keep the action fresh as you never know what will attack next. You have to always be ready to take on all the different enemy types and make sure to protect your towers as they take constant damage. Luckily you can repair towers between waves and upgrade them as you need to.
The overall presentation is simple but gorgeous. Distinctive pixel art with good animation makes it easy to see what is happening. The screen becomes filled with sprites at times but the game still flowed during the frantic times. The graphics are a little small but you will appreciate the large view of the game area as you blast away left to right. There is good use of colour to distinguish the different enemies and your towers looks great as they build.
The music and sound effects are quite basic but this will not spoil your enjoyment. They do their job and you will notice the pumping tempo beats match the play style perfectly. We would have liked to see a little more variety in the background and sound as you progress but this is a small niggle in an otherwise great looking and sounding game. For a budget title the development team have pulled off something impressive.
Pixel Gladiator is a simple arcade game at heart with action at its core. You will not find anything deep here but the fast paced gameplay is entertaining and easy to get into. You will be falling into its one more try, addictive gameplay quickly due to the rewarding nature of the game. The retro inspired gameplay is fun and simple enough to warrant a go. Shooting fans and those looking for a high score challenge will do well to check this one out.