Before we start I want to give special thanks to the publisher Springloaded for sending us a copy of this game to review.
If there’s anything Source Gaming is known for, apart from being icons of perfection (also Smash Bros), it’s our translations. We have plenty of translators who are prolific in Japanese to English, and I’m sure a lot of our fans wish it was a skill they had. I know I personally do, but Japanese can be a daunting language. You have to learn an entirely new alphabet before you start, two even as Japanese has different characters depending on the origin of the word – and don’t even get me started on Kanji. It can be hard figuring out where to start when you know nothing about the language, and that’s where Hiragana Pixel Party comes in to help. So, ひらがなとカタカナをマスターしませんか or will it all still look like hieroglyphics? Let’s find out.
Hiragana Pixel Party is not a game with a story. All you need to know is you are a little Japanese girl walking through some bizarre environments while birds follow you. The focus of the game is to teach players how to read hiragana and katakana characters. Not necessarily full words or translations of words but instead to associate the character with its sound so that you at least know what each character means. For full disclosure, I had learnt what each of these characters was in the past but it had been awhile since I had practised and this made a good refresher.
The genre of this game is a rhythm/education game surprisingly. Similar to Bit.Trip Runner, your character automatically runs in a straight line and the only thing the player needs to do is jump over blocks; however, you can only jump over blocks if you press the appropriate character to match the sound. It works in a Simon says kind of way. The girl will say each character to a beat, and then you repeat that beat with your button press. It’s very simple to understand.
The game does make this simply challenge more complex later on, though. At first, she tells you the character and you are reminded of it on each block. Eventually, though the block will lose the character, and sometimes she’ll even say it in English but you have to press the corresponding character in Hiragana or Katakana. It can quite tough if you’re not prepared and really hammers in what you are learning.
I have a few criticisms to say, like how she speaks when it’s in Japanese but not in English which makes it really weird to get a rhythm going. The player is no longer relying on sound then but the image, and it’s off-putting. It’s also sometimes too fast and because the button layout changes every time I sometimes found myself pressing where a character used to be but not where it was anymore and this sucked, especially when trying to get 3 medals as you need a perfect run for that.
Both Hiragana and Katakana have 192 missions each and 3 medals permission so there is plenty to do here, even though it is very much the same thing throughout. You can also play this game with just the touch-screen if you want which might be easier for some. I personally prefer buttons, but the choice is there.
In a game like this the presentation is really important, otherwise you may as well be learning from a book with some concentration music in the background. Thankfully the presentation here is fantastic. It’s all done in pixel art, hence the title, but the backgrounds are both simple and complex at the same time. There’s a lot of variety going on and each background is captivating, even though it’s basically using the same sprite over and over again. Sometimes the light sources and screen flare can get really annoying but the art itself is great.
Of course, where is a rhythm game without the music and, once again, the presentation excels. None of these songs is ones I will have in my mind forever but none of them is bad either. There are a lot of short soundtracks here for each stage and have an easy and pleasant beat to them that helps the learning experience.
Hiragana Pixel Party is a good game, but its focus is very specific. The game is currently $8.99 in the US and there is enough content here to justify the price. The problem is on the player. If the player is just looking to play a rhythm game then this isn’t it. It’s very simple and the gameplay gets very repetitive. But, that’s not the focus, instead, its aim is to teach you to memorise Japanese characters and it does this very well. It’s fun to play when you’re motivated to learn and if that’s your goal then go right ahead. If your aim is anything other than learning then you might be better off elsewhere.