Review: Pulse

Pulse_1

Pixel Pi’s Pulse, Kickstarted all the way back in 2013, is an innovative adventure game that tells the story of a girl by the name of Eva. Eva is blind. But even though she lost her sight at a young age, she has mastered the ability to view the world based solely on her heightened sense of hearing. Thus your adventure in sight-through-sound exploration begins.

Pulse‘s narrative is purposefully vague, and unfortunately by the end there isn’t any grand revelation or impactful moment to really compel you to form an emotional bond with the character. While the story falls a bit flat, the world itself captures the imagination with its magical art style. Right from the beginning Pulse sucks you in with its abstract, surreal visuals which beautifully create the effect of what Eva is imagining the world to look like. From the perspective of Eva’s mind’s eye, the world is one of lush forests, dark caverns, snowy fields, and ancient ruins.

The atmosphere is rich and immersive, stirring up feelings of fear and wonderment in equal measure. When standing still, the world goes dark save for ambient sound effects and red, beady eyes looking on from the enveloping darkness. Eva doesn’t know they’re there, but you, the player, sure do, and that’s kind of creepy. But as soon as you start to move and generate sound, the world literally pulses to life in vivid vibrations of color and light. (And by pulse I mean pulse–if you’re at all epileptic this game’s bright, pulsating visual effects may be too much to handle.) From gusting winds and rushing streams of water to chirping insects and grinding gears, directional audio cues set the whole experience off, especially when playing with headphones on to fully saturate your eardrums.

Pulse_2

Pulse‘s audiovisual design goes hand and hand with the gameplay, which is built around the concept of echolocation. The only way to visualize the world and figure out where to go is to follow naturally occurring sounds or create your own noise and move ahead before the colors fade. Stepping and jumping allows Eva to generate sound reverberations within a short surrounding radius, while gusts of wind will momentarily present a trail through the environment based on the direction and length of the gust (this is a visual effect that never gets old). Additionally, Eva is aided by forest critters called Mokos, which I can only describe as a crossbreed between Furby and Elebits. If their cute, enlarged eyeballs of pure innocence don’t win your heart, the way they bounce and squeak about like a dog’s chew toy certainly will.

Yep, you guessed it. The squeaking sound Mokos make becomes a necessary tool for exploration. As Mokos are encountered, they will begin to follow along and allow you to pick them up and lob them ahead, their echoing squeaks serving as a sort of GPS navigation system from inside Eva’s imagination. In a few instances you’ll need to toss a Moko into a hamster wheel or some other switch-like apparatus, but there isn’t any actual puzzle-solving to speak of. The gameplay doesn’t involve much more than walking ahead, occasionally bumbling into walls and dead ends until you’re able to find the correct way forward, and safely platform hopping across pools of water and pitfalls.

Pulse_3

One brief section involves sneaking through a forest with lurking wolf-like creatures that turn the world red with anger when they spot you, and another interesting area towards the end has you crossing a frozen lake by following the maze-like path that’s created from the sounds of cracking ice which indicate where it is safe and unsafe to step. But sadly the game just doesn’t have enough moments like this to maximize on its potential. Even with time spent attempting to find hidden orb collectibles (there are 50 in total) and stumbling around, unclear of where to go, the game is over within an hour. I generally don’t factor a game’s length into determining its quality, but in this case the game ends so quickly that it leaves you with an empty feeling, wishing the developers had been able to flesh the experience out with a bit more substance. You just don’t get enough time to connect with the game, because right when it feels like things are building up to something greater, it ends.

As it stands, Pulse comes across more like it’s still a prototype for an interesting gameplay mechanic than a complete video game. I love the visual style and the echolocation-based exploration hook–and I adore those Mokos! But by the end I just wanted more from the gameplay and storyline. I wanted to truly care for Eva, and I wanted to feel a deeper affection for the Mokos beyond their loveable appearance. The fact that I was left craving more proves that Pixel Pi is on to something special. That something special simply hasn’t quite been fully realized here. Pulse is very much worth experiencing if you appreciate games and developers that push creative boundaries and try new ideas, but the fact that it’s a quick one-time play with no meaningful reason to return will make it difficult for a broader audience to embrace.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Adorable Mokos are adorable
+ Interesting sight-through-sound navigation
+ Imaginative visuals

Cons:
– Just doesn’t feel fleshed out enough to truly capitalize on the ambitious concept
– Story fails to resonate

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Pixel Pi Games
Developer: Pixel Pi Games
Release Date: 10/20/2015
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam, Humble Store

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!