Gun Gun Pixies is an unusual game that deserves a little more attention, I feel, particularly as at the time of writing it’s on sale on Steam for another three hours. If you see this too late, I can only apologise — I only just saw that it was on sale. I’ve also only just seen that it’s also 75% off on Switch until May 22, 2022, so get in there if you miss the PC version!
Part of the reason it flew a bit under the radar on its original release, I feel, was because it’s one of those games that sets certain expectations, and then systematically undermines pretty much all of them. And that goes for both its storyline and its mechanical components.
First off, a bit of history. Gun Gun Pixies was developed as a collaboration between Idea Factory, with whom many of you reading this are doubtless already very familiar, and Shade. That latter name may not be familiar to you, but it may surprise you to learn that it’s a name with some serious pedigree behind it: Shade is a developer that was born from the ashes of an extremely well-regarded company that was mostly active in the 16-bit era, known as Quintet.
Quintet was one of those companies whose games tended to go a little underappreciated back on their original release, but in more recent years its work has come to be regarded with a certain amount of reverence. Whether it’s the unusual blend of strategy and platform action seen in Actraiser or the ambitious, philosophical narratives of the “Heaven and Earth trilogy” Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, Quintet’s 16-bit titles have come to be some of the most sought-after retro games out there.
Most of the key staffers from Quintet left to form Shade in the PlayStation era, when they put out The Granstream Saga, a title that some regard as the fourth entry in the Heaven and Earth series. Like many of Quintet’s other titles, The Granstream Saga had a fairly middling reception on its original release, but those who actually remember it today will know that it was a very good RPG with some interesting twists on the usual formula for the genre.
So it’s fair to say that Shade, on the whole, is more than happy to get a bit experimental with their work. And Gun Gun Pixies is just one of many examples of this. Ostensibly unfolding as a third-person shooter, Gun Gun Pixies sees you taking on the role of diminutive heroines Bee-tan and Kame-pon as they arrive on Earth in an attempt to learn about interpersonal relationships.
Bee-tan and Kame-pon’s home planet of Pandemo is suffering a crisis, you see: the way society on the planet has developed has led the population to shy away from direct relationships with one another, which causes all sorts of problems. Not only are people forgetting how to cooperate and work together for a common good, but they’re also losing interest in pursuing relationships for the sake of procreation.
Gun Gun Pixies’ narrative felt peculiarly relevant to the modern world back on its western release in 2019; Pandemo’s situation felt like it mirrored the rise of self-absorbed social media addicts and “influencers” and the corresponding increase in narcissism as compassion and empathy declined. Not only that, but the declining birth rate on Pandemo was clearly an acknowledgement of the same problem that Japan has been facing for some time now.
In 2022, we can look at Gun Gun Pixies from another perspective, too. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic provided another means of driving a wedge between individuals as we were simply unable to see one another for a significant amount of time — and while in many places the pandemic’s restrictions have lifted at this point, there’s still the sense that something isn’t quite “right” with the world. Consequently, it’s not a terrible idea to revisit the idea of how to be good to your fellow humans.
Interestingly enough, Gun Gun Pixies comes at this issue from the angle that humanity — as depicted in its world, anyway — has it a bit more figured out than Pandemo does, and as such Bee-tan and Kame-pon have a great opportunity to learn from the girls of the Lilypad dormitory that they end up invading. And indeed, this isn’t a terrible way of looking at things; for all the negative things we can say about life in 2022, there are still people out there who have empathy and compassion for one another, and who are able to make the best of difficult situations.
Bee-tan and Kame-pon were chosen for their mission for a specific reason, too. Unlike most Pandemonians, they have been able to form an honest, genuine bond of friendship with one another, and as such despite being regarded as “failures” at the military academy they both attended, they’re ideally placed to observe human interactions from their own distinctive perspectives.
If all that doesn’t sound like your typical setup to a third-person shooter… well, you’d absolutely, definitely be right. Because Gun Gun Pixies is not a third-person shooter; it’s a visual novel, which just happens to feature gameplay segments that include third-person shooting, platforming and exploration action.
Once you figure that out, Gun Gun Pixies becomes a thoroughly interesting experience as you watch the inhabitants of “Lilypad” interacting with one another, deeping their friendships and, in some cases, healing the wounds of the past. The narrative actually handles some surprisingly heavy themes along the way, including eating disorders, matters of self-esteem and the feeling that you’re somehow “unworthy” of being loved.
What’s especially intriguing is how Bee-tan and Kame-pon are absolutely not the main characters of this show; instead, they act as something of a framing device for the stories that the girls of Lilypad have to tell. They might occasionally make their own little contributions in order to nudge their observation targets in the right direction, but for the most part both Bee-tan and Kame-pon, being a fraction of the size of their human counterparts, are able to stay hidden and see how things unfold.
The actual gameplay side of things comes along as Bee-tan and Kame Pon are investigating the various girls’ rooms. Progressing through the game is usually a simple matter of finding the appropriate story triggers — but the reason these interactive elements are even there in the first place rather than the game simply being a straightforward visual novel is that there’s a lot more to discover than just the main story.
In each of the girls’ rooms, for example, there are various items of “information” to discover with the aid of Bee-tan and Kame-pon’s zoomable scopes. By locating and examining these, you get to enjoy some delightful conversations between the pair as they attempt to figure out some of the mysteries of humanity — sometimes making some thoroughly filthy misinterpretations in the process.
Bee-tan also has a thing for scanning discarded items of lingerie so she can recreate them for herself and Kame-pon at a later time, and each room is full of “Picoins” for you to discover, too, often necessitating some creative experimentation in terms of how you actually get around a normal-sized dorm room when you’re about the size of a doorstop.
The shooting aspect comes in in two different ways: firstly, while exploring, you’ll often be beset by mysterious “squid” enemies of various types, who you’ll need to blast or jump on. Secondly, there are several “boss fights” during the game, during which one of the main “big girl” characters is having some sort of severe difficulty dealing with their current situation, and by shooting them with Bee-tan and Kame-pon’s “Happy Bullets” you can help them bring their emotions back under control.
To say too much more about Gun Gun Pixies would be to spoil the experience, but suffice to say that as long as you go into this with the appropriate mindset — which is to treat this more as a “story game” than a fast-action third-person blastathon — there’s an absolutely delightful experience to be had, filled with both cheeky, naughty humour and a heartfelt, beautiful message: the fact that it’s okay to ask for help, and that you don’t need to face your own problems alone, however trivial you worry others might think they are.
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