Early Look @ Pil

I always enjoy the privilege of getting to try early builds of games because it gives me the chance to see where projects were before they were released, and it often allows me to be part of the development process, even if in just a small way. I also love to play games by one-man development teams – it’s just so inspiring to see what amazing things people can do on their own if they put their mind to it. I guess in a small way it also gives me hope that one day I might actually get to make a game.

Due to these feelings, I was happy to get to try Pil. This is a small, but quite impressive game being developed by David Richard under the development studio name Hoodoo. It’s not his first publicly released project, but it is his first “serious game.” While it’s only in the middle stages of development, I’m very happy with the way it’s progressing. It’s a modest fighter-platformer that mixes simple and complex gameplay styles in order to create a seemingly familiar, yet original experience.

GRAPHICS DJMMT - Graphics

The graphics in Pil need a lot of work. It looks a lot like test footage, which in many ways it is. There are some really nice elements coupled with a number of weaker components. This is true for the menus much more than the actual in-game graphics. The game is actually quite simple as far as what’s on the screen. You play as a little pill. Each pill has a special power that comes with relevant animations. You notice things a lot more in the main menu because it’s all up close, as opposed to the actual gameplay which is a long shot of the whole level.

Graphics are too simple.

Graphics are quite simple.

The menu animations for each power don’t look bad, but they freeze up every now and then like they’re on a loop or something. Some of them also need textures to be cleaned up. The simple thin white text used in the menus and descriptions is fine, but very bland looking. There are also a lot of sizing and placement issues with the menus right now. A lot of the text runs right off the screen or overlaps with other elements unintentionally. And the other menus are just black screens with white text at this point. They really need some character.

Text in menus overlaps sometimes.

Text in menus overlap sometimes.

The pills look pretty good, but they’re quite simple. Although, the 7 colours to choose from does give users the ability to have some level of personalization when playing. Collectible power-ups are very simple balls that have a bit of a glow effect. They all look the same but come in a few different colours. I personally think the colours chosen are too dark for some of the backgrounds. Health pick-ups are little black crosses, which are definitely too dark for some of the levels.

7 playable colours to choose from.

The special power animations look pretty good in game when compared to the menus, but the recharge bars are too simple for my taste. They definitely work for the style though. Basic attack, which is simple gun fire, is just little circles outlined in whatever colour pill you’re using. They work fine, but I think these too are disappointingly simple.

Earthquake power shakes the screen.

Earthquake power shakes the screen.

The levels aren’t yet where they need to be visually. The backgrounds are composed of beautiful, constantly moving elements that have a light psychedelic feel to them. They definitely go with the music. But the actual level elements are too simple. The platforms are just opaque, white bars of varying length placed at different angles. A few special platforms such as spring boards come in other colours, but there aren’t a lot of these. They need to be much more creative. I’d like to see them in different colours, textures, and widths.

Something that would really help would be to give each level a specific theme like in most fighters. There can be a jungle level or a fire stage for example. There just needs to be something that will really set each of the 15 stages apart visually other than the background.

Level select screen needs work.

Level selection screen needs work.

The HUD is very simple, as it should be. Like with Smash Brothers, you get a character icon, which is just your chosen pill’s colour, a number indicating remaining lives, and another number indicating damage taken. The numbers are displayed in white, but the damage indicator turns red when you’re actually taking damage. In timed mode you only get a number indicating damage. For whatever reason the character icon isn’t there during timed mode, but that needs to be fixed. Especially once online play is made available.

If I had to describe the graphics for Pil in their current form I’d have to say that they’re a skeleton of what they can and should ultimately be. When you’re playing it you can imagine something much more epic, but it’s just not there yet.

Timed mode HUD is incomplete.

Timed mode HUD is incomplete.

GAMEPLAY DJMMT - Gameplay

Pil is one of the simplest fighters I’ve ever played. You can move with the joystick, auto shoot with the other joystick, jump, and use your special power. Currently gamepad play is mandatory, but it works with several different types of gamepads including PS3, XBOX 360, and generic gamepads. Sadly the buttons aren’t currently mapable, which is a problem because L1 is not the ideal jump button for many people, but I’m sure the controls will be mappable or at least alterable in the final build.

Gamepad play is mandatory at this point.

The best description for the gameplay is Super Smash Bros, but everyone has a Samus Aran cannon with only basic shot. Your goal is to kill other players by knocking them off the stage. You can take an unlimited amount of damage, but this increases your launch distance. Players can die by going too far off screen in any direction, but most deaths are from falls. All contact with specials and basic shots cause damage, but there are no straight physical attacks. Each basic shot causes 10 damage, while special powers vary based on the power and level of direct contact.

Can take unlimited damage.

You can take unlimited damage.

There are 9 different special powers: Teleport, Earthquake, Wind, Ice, Fire, Lightning, Time, Shield, and Bomb. Each one does something different and most of them, Shield included, can cause damage. But the amount of damage and the effect of the powers all vary considerably. Some powers are more defensive such as Teleport which can still cause damage, though most of them are offensive. Specials take different amounts of time to recharge.

Shield power causes damage.

Shield power causes damage.

There are a few different types of collectibles. The main ones are health, which lowers the amount of damage already taken, and improved shot which does things such as split your shots into 3. Collectibles fall at different rates, but the rate is not controllable at this time like it is in Smash Bros.

While the menus are spotty with lots of freezes and problems, the actual gameplay runs very smoothly. Movement is clean and highly responsive as is basic shooting. I did feel like the special powers had a bit of latency at times, but a big part of that has to do with aiming them. Certain powers won’t work if not aimed properly in specific directions.

Gameplay runs very smoothly.

My final opinion on the gameplay is that it’s pretty good, but there are things that could make it much better. The addition of more types of power-ups would help considerably. Physical or at least varied basic attacks would do wonders as well. The focus is too much on special attacks instead of basic gameplay, but special attacks are often hard to aim and can’t be spammed. The basic attacks need to be more effective so players don’t feel like they’re constantly waiting for the next special and can’t really play in between.

Pause Menu

Pause Menu.

SOUND DJMMT - Sound

This is one of those games where the sound quality is half and half. As far as sound effects go, I wasn’t really impressed. There aren’t too many sound effects, but I won’t say that any are exactly missing either. There are special sounds for shooting, collecting power-ups, each special power, and certain stage components such as spring board jumps. I expect this will probably be cleaned up in the final build, but currently the sound effects are way too soft. The music, which is quite loud by comparison, overpowers them to a point where you have to actively listen to hear them in many cases. Currently there are no volume controls to even try to remedy this, but I assume that will be changed in the later stages of development as well. The sounds chosen are appropriate, but underwhelming.

Sound effects need work, but the music is phenomenal.

The music is a whole different story from the sound effects. When I first loaded up the game, I was very disappointed because the music in the start menu is of really low quality. It’s a short rhythm that constantly replays, but with noticeable breaks between each run. It’s also quite spotty and just needs to be changed. I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t expecting much from the in-game sound because of this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was absolutely wrong. The soundtrack is to die for if you like techno.

Each of the current 15 stages has its own track and they’re all awesome. They’re crystal clear, loud, and the beats are great. I don’t exactly think they’re appropriate for the gameplay, but they’re quite good so I’m cool with it. By the time I finished playing the beta I was wishing for a copy of the soundtrack. Ultimately for sound I’d have to give Pil an A for music, but a C for effects.

Music matches backgrounds but not so much gameplay.

Music matches backgrounds but not so much for gameplay.

WRITING DJMMT - Pencil

Pil only has multiplayer gameplay and thus has no plot to speak of. The only writing used in the game other than post-match stats is special power descriptions. They’re mostly short and simple, because of the obvious weapon types, and accomplish exactly what they need to. Not really anything else that can be said on the subject, and with this game that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Only writing in the game to speak of.

Only writing in the game to speak of.

REPLAY VALUE DJMMT - Replay Value

Like with most games that are exclusively multiplayer, the replay value is hard to quantify. On one hand there’s an unlimited amount of hours you can get out of the game if you enjoy it and can find people to play with. But on the other hand there’s little motivation brought on by the game itself to keep you playing. There are currently no achievements, leaderboards, permanently recorded stats, or any other bragging rights. I’d be shocked if at least a couple of these things weren’t added to the final build.

Right now, another problem is that the game only supports local multiplayer. The developer has already stated that he plans on adding online multiplayer for the release version. That will add a significant amount of gameplay value.

Stats aren't kept past end of match screen.

Stats aren’t kept past end-of-match screens.

While there aren’t currently any external motivators to add time to your gameplay, there are 15 levels and 2 gameplay modes to master so that’s something. The projected release price is $4.99, but that’s not set in stone. The current build isn’t worth that price, though the finished one, provided it has online multiplayer, improved graphics, better sound effects, and competitive stat records among other things, would be a steal. But again, the amount of gameplay is ultimately up to you. Some people will play it for an hour and get bored with no single player mode to finish, while others will put in record amounts of hours playing against other people.

CONCLUSION DJMMT - Conclusion

Pil is progressing nicely at this point. It definitely has its issues, but the core game is solid. No one element of the game is perfect just yet, but it all fits together quite nicely. I look forward to seeing the end result and I expect big things from David Richard in the future.

Hoodoo games

Pil is projected to release in October of this year. You can read more about the project and support the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. You can try out the free demo on the Pil page of the HOODOO website.

the author

Writer at ManaPool. By day, DJMMT is a struggling college alum surviving by making pizza in Wisconsin and looking for better work. By night, he's a top shelf gamer. His favorite genres are platformers and real time action RPGs. Want to have a long discussion about any topic in gaming? Me too. Send me a message and let's talk.