I’m standing inside a video rental store. Rows of factory-fresh VHS tapes line the walls, and near the center of the room sits a pair of kiosks, each sporting a different 16-bit game system. My dad drove us over to hunt for cheap movies, but I’m more interested in checking out the game systems on display. I grab one of the gamepads as kids nearby argue over what game console is coolest and most powerful. It feels like I’m inside of a ’90s television commercial for Blockbuster Video.
I haven’t traveled into the past, of course, but I’m definitely experiencing a kind of time travel all the same. I’m playing Pixel Ripped 1995, a virtual adventure that drops me into the sneakers of a nine-year-old gamer named David. In a twist worthy of Steven Spielberg, David is identified as Earth’s greatest player and tasked with saving the game universe — and the real world — by playing classic video games. Equal parts nostalgic adventure and interactive autobiography, the Pixel Ripped series is the brainchild of Ana Ribeiro, a lifelong gamer turned indie game wizard.
Internet famous for dressing up as Dot, the digital protagonist she created to star in Pixel Ripped, Ribeiro left a cushy gig working at the Justice Council in Brazil (and stepped away from her side business selling pies) to chase a career in games. “I had a crazy dream about playing video games as they evolved through the years,” says Ribeiro. “I thought how cool it would be to relive those childhood experiences.” With Pixel Ripped, her second collaboration with partner ARVORE, she realizes her dream of both dipping into the past and sharing her passion with others. “My goal has always been to share new worlds with people and help them revisit moments of joy and fantasy,” she says.
My journey to the glory days of 16-bit gaming starts on a virtual living room floor. I’m sitting cross-legged in front of an old CRT television. I look around and notice a mishmash of gamer tchotchkes — geeky magazines, game cartridges, and snacks. I’m even wearing Pixel Ripped pajamas. Gamepad in hand, I navigate a pixelated world of magic and monsters in search of a powerful artifact to defeat the Cyblin Lord, a pointy-eared antagonist threatening both the digital world and the world David calls home.
As I make my way across the 16-bit landscape, I outmaneuver lethal traps and fight a menagerie of monsters using Dot’s iconic arm cannon. Fans of old-school action games will feel at home using the virtual gamepad, which sports a classic D-pad and analog buttons but eschews modern staples like analog sticks and shoulder buttons.
I steal a glance across the room and see Mom pacing around the kitchen. She’s on a business call and pays little attention to my digital hijinks. I hear a voice off to my right and spot a kid at the window. He sees what I’m playing and rants about his own video game exploits. It’s the kind of competitive trash talk you settle with high scores and virtual trophies, so I refocus on the TV and keep playing. Then something unexpected happens: An object I discover in the game — a toy gun — magically comes through the television and into the living room.
An ally in the game says I can use the plastic shooter to distract grown-ups in the real world. I try it moments later when I hear Mom hang up the phone. She scolds me for staying indoors and starts walking over. I take the gun and aim for a handful of cereal boxes I spot in the kitchen. I hit my target, and the boxes plummet toward the floor. Mom throws her hands up and saunters off to investigate the mess. Crisis averted, I lay the plastic weapon down and continue playing. I’m forced to distract Mom again (and again) by blasting items all around the house, from cookie jars to Christmas ornaments.
My skills as a middle school gunslinger pay off, and I manage to distract Mom long enough to retrieve the artifact and survive the journey back into town. In true video game fashion, the Cyblin Lord shows up looking for a fight — on my turf. He explodes out of the TV and starts wreaking havoc in the living room with minions from the game world. With my trusty gamepad in one hand and toy gun in the other, I blast game villains and household objects in a climactic brawl that’s part 2D platformer and part 3D shooting gallery.
Ultimately, I battle through a playlist of experiences from the 16-bit and 32-bit eras of gaming to save the universe. And each one feels like an homage to classic games from yesteryear. Yes, I also sidestep Mom and kids from town, but that only adds to the charm and nostalgia. The combination of childhood wonder, domestic strife, and classic gaming come together in Pixel Ripped 1995 to produce a slice of the past like only VR can deliver.
Pixel Ripped 1995 is out now on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform. To learn more about Ana Ribeiro and her journey bringing the Pixel Ripped series to life, head over to the Oculus Blog.