Anyone who's been reading WoS or WoSblog for any amount of time will probably already have noticed that I have very little time for videogames that want to tell stories.
There are plenty of fields of culture available already for people who want to be told stories. Books, films, comics, TV, theatre and even music are all ideally suited to story-telling, and frequently do a brilliant job of it. You wouldn't hire a footballer to come round and do your plumbing, so why would you look to videogames for storytelling?
But anyway. I bang on about that subject at greater length here and here, so we don't need to go through it again. What I'd like to draw your attention to instead is a glorious example of the art (dang!) of a videogame being a videogame. The unwieldily-titled Pix'n Love Rush, in fact, goes beyond being a videogame – it's a metagame. That is to say, it's a videogame that's about being a videogame.
Metagaming is a sub-genre that was to all intents and purposes kicked off by the immortal Wario Ware on the GBA (though strictly speaking the first examples came many years before, with the likes of Lazy Jones on the 8-bit home computers). It's characterised by games packed with references to other games, and tends to utilise gameplay stripped of all pretence at simulating real-world activities.
Metagames don't want you to think you're driving a racing car or saving the world from armies of evil. They want you to know that you're sitting in your house (or on the bus or in the pub) with a controller in your hand playing a videogame, and they want you to not be ashamed of it.
The genre which Pix'n Love Rush boils down to its barest bones is platforming. The game consists of two modes, a five-minute Time Attack and an endless Infinite game. Both comprise a non-stop sequence of randonly-selected short platforming levels (chosen from a range of 125) where you have to collect coins, avoid minus blocks, shoot bats with your vertically-firing gun and protect (ie not shoot) angels.
Each level can be as short as six seconds or as long as about 20 seconds, and if you complete a level perfectly you get a bonus of 10,000 times your current multiplier. The multiplier (which can be 1, 2, 5 or 10) is increased by making combos, which is to say doing the Good Things (collecting coins and shooting bats) without doing any of the Bad Things (hitting a minus block, getting an angel killed, or stupidly getting shot by your own bullet – it falls back down the screen in a slight arc if it doesn't hit anything).
Do a Bad Thing and your multiplier goes down a level – as well as costing you a pixel of energy from your "heart", depicted at top left – but you can miss as many coins or bats as you like without damaging it. It's only when you actually cause some harm that you're penalised.
And that's pretty much it for the gameplay. Run out of energy (or in the five-minute game, out of either energy or time) and it's game over. The pace is fast and relentless and the levels are incredibly varied – some are static, some scroll horizontally (both left and right), and some scroll vertically (both up and down).
Some are speed rushes across collapsing platforms, others are intricate and mazy, some are about precision and planning – the only common factor is that you'll have to be on top form to notch a perfect. (You'll need a good few perfects to beat the built-in high scores, and you don't get an online ranking unless you've done so, which is a bit mean.)
But as particularly alert viewers will noticed from the screenshots on this page, the game has a more immediately striking feature too. In keeping with the metagaming theme, Pix'n Love Rush gets bored with its graphical style as quickly as it does of each individual stage – at frequent intervals, regardless of whether you're slap-bang in the middle of a tricky level or not, PLR simply gives itself an instant makeover.
You might suddenly find yourself playing something that looks like an old mono Gameboy game, or something in the style of The Matrix, or the glowing pixels of Arkedo's Xbox Indie games (PLR's developers Bulkypix, or possibly partner Pastagames, are connected somehow to Arkedo but it's not clear exactly how closely), or Nintendo's infamous Virtual Boy, or my personal favourite, a deteriorating TV picture with scanlines that eventually gets so out of tune it authentically pops up the "AV1" tag.
(Don't panic – the picture sorts itself out after a few seconds, and even at its worst the game remains completely playable, and that's despite having almost exactly the same poorly-laid-out controls as Qwak. They're a fair bit less troublesome here, though, because you have to use the shoot button far less often than the jump one.)
Bulkypix promise even more "skins" in future updates (I'd love to see a ZX81 style myself, along with a three-minute Time Attack option), but while they add enormously to PLR's aesthetic appeal, it's the inventive and challenging (meta)game underneath that's the star. It costs 59p, so I'm accepting no excuses whatsoever.
(No, not even not having an iPhone or iPod Touch. As you must be aware by now, WoS subscribers can get one of those for £6.)