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Pixel Grower

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Rating: 3.4/5 (144 votes)
Comments (24) | Views (4,418)
zxoPixel Grower screenshotThe phrase "game as art" gets tossed around whenever there's a work that strays from the notion that a game is something to be completed. This term is usually applied to games with unusually interactive environments and breathtaking artwork, or games that attempt to deliver a message or toy with your emotions. In both of these cases, the gameplay itself is de-emphasized. What doesn't get mentioned often are games where the gameplay is the art, the thing of beauty. These games are often misunderstood, classified as boring by those who like a game to have such devices as characters and a story. They are simple by necessity, for the subtleties of gameplay are easily obscured by flash and sparkle. Yet for those who have the patience to explore the space carved out by the constructs around which the game is built, they can be a thing of true beauty, not unlike the beauty found within fractals and Fibonacci sequences.

Consider Pixel Grower, by Joey Betz. Visually, it's appealing, but not awe-inspiringly so. Likewise, the gameplay also appears simple, at least initially. Your mouse controls the paddle with which you must collect as many falling pixels as possible. Much like certain elements in falling sand games, the pixels stick to your paddle wherever they strike it, so before you know it, you're wielding a Christmas tree rather than a simple paddle. Your goal is quite simple: catch as many pixels as possible before your health meter runs out from letting too many pass you by. Whenever your pixel stack reaches the white line, the game zooms out and passes on to the next stage.

So where's the art? Well, let's take a step back and ask ourselves: just what is art? I think most people can agree that all art (good or bad, classic or just plain weird) shares the following two traits: 1) it was conceived as something to be displayed to, played for, or otherwise experienced by others; 2) it elicits from its experiencer some sort of mental or emotional response, whether it be awe, disgust, sadness, or simply: "huh."

With that in mind, we might begin to see how the gameplay in Pixel Grower might be considered artful. As you first begin to play, the game seems pretty straightforward: catch all the pixels, right? But after dying earlier than you think you ought to, it starts to dawn on you that how you catch the pixels is also extremely important. Slowly, you adjust not only your strategy, but the mental state with which you approach the simple task of catching. Like the morphing growth of the pixelated paddle, your impression of the game writhes and shifts, with no two people experiencing the same tactical mental progression. Little by little, you hack away the detritus of sub-optimal strategy, uncovering the gem that lies within.

Of course, like all art, games such as Pixel Grower do not appeal to everyone, as evidenced by the mixed comment response to one of the shining examples of gameplay-as-art. It certainly requires you to put on your abstract glasses to really appreciate it. But for those whose boat is floated by an artfully crafted piece of gameplay, Pixel Grower awaits your discerning fancy.

Play Pixel Grower


It took me a while to realize the pixels were good.I thought i was trying to avoid passing the dotted line.


Not bad but I felt as though it sorta just kills you around level 5 (around the 1000 pixel mark). There wasn't much incentive to try again a third time for me, because I know I couldn't do any better, and its impossible on the previous stages due to the narrow screen to grow out enough to ensure survival.


Cool; a little fractal growth :) For anybody wondering why their pixel growth bears a slight resemblance to coral, take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion-limited_aggregation



The trick is to avoid progressing through the stages as much as possible. The most important strategy is to try to land the pixels at the edges--that is, make the mass wider, not taller. If you can do this before advancing to the next stage, you should be in good shape.


got to 20,000+ my first try by growing up as fast as possible and moving my mouse quickly from left to right to catch any misses on the sides.


Alex Kantal August 5, 2009 7:21 PM

Really just not fun after that 1,000 mark as the pixels just become so fast that they zip past no matter what you try. I'd give it a 2, maybe a 3. Out of 5 of course.


Entertaining, but not recommended for laptops. I'm using one right now, and the touchpad makes it nearly impossible to get over 1,500 pixels. After a couple of tries, I just gave up. Maybe I'll try again later with a mouse, otherwise I'll end up digging a hole in this pad.

tenkuchima August 5, 2009 8:33 PM

its boring after the third or fourth level when the only possible way to win is to just wildly shake your mouse back and forth. I played several times and no matter how my pixel creation looked at around level 2, by level 5 it looked like a giant cone. an art game greatly looses its appeal when the end result is always exactly the same.


This commits the sin of skipping frames instead of slowing down when overtaxed. By level 3 it became so fast on my computer that pixels jumped halfway down the screen every frame. Totally unplayable.

Jordan Kelly August 5, 2009 9:03 PM

A game walks into a bar. It's in a pseudo-retro style, replete with gaudy colours and chunky pixels. Its soundtrack is a cheery collection of 8-bit beeps, and its characters go through some silent performance of a half-memory from video game history, a shared cliché.

Of course this game isn't very fun to play, its interface is brutally Spartan and there's nothing so juvenile as an "objective" to achieve. It's not very interactive or engaging either, especially considering how long it took to download.

But as the somewhat patronising last paragraph in the review would have it, it's OK because it's "Art"! Because for some reason we're still trying justify the manifest artistry already present in this medium in terms of other art forms. So when a game doesn't look good, or sound good, or play well and delivers no challenge nor entertainment it must surely be the product of a serious attempt to produce a piece of art, and not just the product of a lazy afternoon dabbling in Flash.

Games are art already, let's stop giving free passes to games that are self-consciously minimalist because a developer can't look at the act of moving a mouse left and right and come up with something more FUN.

Super Mario is art. A Rubik's Cube is art. Pixel Grower is a fairly dull action game or at best a visual curiosity.

(The real kicker here is that is that chap that made the excellent Phage Wars games.)


Sort of a shame, because I really like the concept of how it

zooms out as your little pixel structure gets more complex and fractal-like

. Just a little gameplay tweaking and it could be really fun. Something like keeping the pixels at about the same speed, but making some of the coloured ones take away part of your bar instead of adding to it; making them fall from different directions; changing the shape and placement of the dotted lines so that you have to strategize even more; alternating levels where you have to build or shrink your bar, or anything else. Anything but the pixel hail of lag. :c


I dunno, I found it very entertaining. It wasn't made to have World of Warcraft levels of complexity, it's a simple and enjoyable game. It's very difficult to come up with simple, easy to program concepts that are unique and enjoyable and this fits the bill.

The fact that there are many other ways it could be modified just leaves room for a sequel. Yeah it goes really fast near the end but I would rather it go fast and end than have the pixels come to slowly and get bored waiting.

I really enjoyed it.


Okay, tried it again, with a mouse this time. Ended up with 70,677 pixels, Level 9. Yes, I have way too much time in my hands. xD But it was kind of fun to push the game to its limit: first came the lag. Then, a thunderstorm of speeding dots. Later, the pixels stopped getting faster and stabilized at a speed, but they were so small that the collision detection could barely attach them to the paddle. Finally, entering Level 9, the pixels became so tiny you had to squint your eyes to see them. Needless to say, the collision detection was wrecked, and I lost the game a few seconds later.

All in all, it's just a little timewaster, enjoyable for the first few times, but that's it.

OrigamiMarie August 6, 2009 1:02 AM

Stage 8, 24,617 pixels, "1 Pixel Perfect 1", and no replay value. Cute, but when play consists entirely of blindly scrubbing the mouse, there's not much to do once you've worked out a strategy that gets you reasonably high up in scores and levels.

Anonymous August 6, 2009 1:49 AM

There comes a point where it's literally showering pixels all over, and the only possible way you can survive is by wildly moving your mouse left and right. Not fun. Well, it's fun for the first few plays, but once you realize all you'll be doing is moving your mouse left and right like a mad man...


Yeah, level 9, 79k pixels, but couldn't see them anymore, so I had to flail around wildly which wasn't my idea of fun.
The rest of the game wasn't that much to play as well, but it's hard to leave a game you're winning at...for a varying definition of 'win' that is.


My little shape bred in chaos was such an outgoing fellow. Look, some pixels! let us grab them, shall we! He eagerly runs to the other side of the screen, but to his dismay, the pixels simply pass through him. He tries again! To the other side we go! They're still there! "What is this!" the shape cries in agony as the pixels rush past apathetically to the ground, depleting his ever-decreasing health bar to naught.

This story is entitled:
I hate games with annoying collision detection.

Around level seven this started getting unbearable.


An entertaining concept, but the lag and the pixel "trails" coupled with the slightly awkward collision-detection system make the implementation sadly lacking. Would love to see it refined for greater playability.


The only way to win this game is not to play it


I didn't think this game was on par with a game that was cited as comprable in the review: Gimme Friction Baby. GFB gave no instructions and as a result, you (we) had to figure out how to play. It went from messy confusion to that profound "I get it!" moment, to a game that, months and months later, I'll still pull up a window to play while other things load. This game did not seem to be (to me at least) on the same level. The sense of exploration might have been there, but the manner in which the exploration is done in both games is very different. The organic-looking growth that your pixel-catching-paddle becomes is beautiful, yes, simple and taut like the overall appeal of GFB, but the insane mouse movements required for Pixel Grower get any further than a few levels on make this game very different indeed. I liked it overall but don't think it is on the same tier as games like GFB, which draw you in with something that seems familiar and then keep you returning as you have to figure out the game for yourself, the same yet freshly challenging every time you play.


I got to stage 9 then gave up with 76,429 rank #1 pixel perfect!

the key to the game is in the first 2-3 levels make the base as wide as possible, then all you do after that is move the tower back an forth quickly to catch all the pixels on the sides.


I liked the music for this game a lot. Too bad the gameplay wasn't so enjoyable for me.


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