The retro-flavored pixel genre is a unique one since there’s so many different flavors, concepts, and storylines that can be applied to the aesthetic. These experiences vary from traditional platformers to action-packed adventures to even the surreal and disturbing. That being said, I’ve always found games like OneShot hard to approach since my experience with them has been mostly negative, predictable, and often times not worth the effort.
So imagine my delight that I’m happy to say that not only has this unusual pixel-centric game approached the genre head on, but also manages to demonstrate the real potential of such games have even in today’s age of a demand for better, photorealistic graphics.
While it appears nothing more than a simple puzzle and adventure, OneShot introduces some interesting mechanics that fully immersed me in its small, pixel world. Characters are self-aware, to a certain point, as they know the player exists. Cute, creepy, and touching all in one, I honestly had trouble tearing myself away long enough to sit down to hash out this review. Lucky for you, I eventually did!
The premise is pretty basic, but still cute in its own way. Our hero is Niko, who appears to be a combination of witch child and cat. One day she wakes up in bed and is curious about what woke her up. After a bit of walking around, she comes across a lightbulb with the power to light up without any discernable source of power. Naturally, this triggers a world-shifting event as she enters an alternate world ruled by robots and it’s here where the fun really begins.
While exploring this strange new world, Niko learns its cruel reality: this robotic world is dying because its sun went out. As it happens, the lightbulb she discovered earlier is actually their new sun and now it’s up to Niko to reach the tower to replace it. For this, the player and Niko have to work together if they want to save this dying world by solving puzzles, meeting new friends, and discovering there’s more to the experience they thought possible.
One of the unique aspects of OneShot it uses to stand out is its ‘self-aware’ mechanic. This immerses the player immediately into its world while still maintaining its creepy (but charming) vibe. When the player starts, everything is in full screen mode. There are certain puzzles that can only be solved in the ‘real’ world and the window will go into windowed mode to indicate the player has some work to do.
Niko will often address the player directly, ask questions, and even start up a conversation every once in a while. It’s not just her, either, as other characters in the world are also aware the player exists as well, often referring to them as a ‘god’, and assume they will know what to do when the time comes to replace the sun in the tower.
The puzzles in OneShot are simple to solve and don’t require much in the way of out-of-the-box thinking. There are certain areas where helping characters is necessary in order to progress, but even these moments are cleverly woven into the narrative so the player doesn’t feel as if helping is a necessity. Fast-travel is another key mechanic added in, which I appreciated when having to backtrack to solve certain puzzles. There’s quite a bit of backtracking involved too, but with fast-travel it certainly helped ease the pain.
OneShot actually reminds me of those other pixel games made using the popular RPG Maker, and not just because of the visuals. Even with its simple design, colors vary between shades of purple to varying hues once things in the world start to come alive. During Niko’s travels, the world around her slowly starts to gain more color as she gets closer to the tower. This was a brilliant touch as colors indicate that even in a world slowly dying, there’s still life continuing to exist despite the odds.
Niko herself is an enjoyable main character with her own personality. With her big, glowing yellow eyes and carrying around the light bulb, it’s hard not to adore her for her cuteness. She’s easily relatable with the nearly impossible task she’s been given to complete and the player feels truly responsible for her should anything go wrong during her adventure.
The artwork is similar in design, too, as sprite-heavy artwork is used in place of dialogue to help mark when Niko enters new areas for the first time. Her expressions and how she reacts conveys the mood for these new places, helping set the stage for a new round of puzzles and exploration. Even the environment expands on the story if the player decides to poke around. Small notes are scattered throughout the world for the player to read and fill in story gaps explaining why certain environments are empty, what’s taken place before the sun died, and how people have reacted to the drastic changes.
I’m also a big fan of the game’s soundtrack as it always sets the ambiance perfectly for Niko’s and the player’s adventure together. The smooth and quiet tones can be haunting at times, adding a depressing atmosphere in certain areas, while other times is sounds almost like a lullaby.
With its pixel graphics and emphasis on puzzle solving, OneShot often felt more like a truly new experience rather than just another puzzle-and-adventure romp. While simplistic on the surface, light puzzle-solving and interesting characters make for a charmingly creepy take on the genre. The self-aware mechanics are used sparingly enough to remain fresh and even slightly shocking when they pop up, and I really enjoyed the otherwise relaxing atmosphere it had to offer. This is definitely a worthwhile playthrough for those desiring something a little different, yet somewhat familiar.