Free For All is a freeware gaming spotlight, a place to pay tribute to games built from the ground up for free distribution by skilled, private developers with a vision and pure desire to see their peers entertained.
Many freeware projects have roots in simpler times, in places ranging from last decade’s Flash game craze to the 8- and 16-bit titles before them and anything in-between. Indie developer Daniel Remar has shown special preference for both of these in many of his works, and while his frenetic shooter Hyper Princess Pitch may be both a spinoff of one of his previous works and essentially a heavy mod of a DOS game from 1996 it’s by no means unimaginative.
Starring Garden Gnome Carnage’s (another Remar game I’d recommend) purveyor of air strikes, Hyper Princess Pitch puts players in the shoes of the knowingly-transparent Peach parody as she embarks on her personal quest for revenge against the mechanized denizens of the North Pole. What follows is four levels of elves, explosions, and energetic arcade-inspired fun… or five if you manage to find the entrance to the bonus stage. If it wasn’t obvious by this point, this is not a game grounded in anything realistic.
It’s a good thing that’s just how I like them.
Pitch takes a graphical step back from its primary inspiration, Midnight Synergy’s Operation: Carnage, but its use of simpler and brighter elements is born much more from aesthetic choice than technical limitations and only works to sell the shooter’s unadulterated bizarreness even more. On the sound side of presentation you’ve got viscerally catchy chiptune accompaniments courtesy freelance artist Niklas Ström to look forward to, with the rare but delightful bit of scene-chewing voice acting as the audible cherry on top.
Pitch’s branching paths through each level constantly assault you with fresh and varied combinations of enemy types. Their combined fire and movement can be enough to fill the screen but never to ridiculous levels, making it more of a “bullet purgatory” than a true bullet hell shooter. The alternate weapon ammo that litters each room can help to clear areas of undesirables, but I found myself leaning on my default brick-slinging bazooka and temporary power-ups more than anything else the game offered. Bosses up the ante considerably on all fronts, often taking up a considerable portion of the screen with their bodies alone, and the odd surprise miniboss fight sprinkled into each route forces you to stop and reconsider your usual strategy in short order.
Controls are satisfyingly tight whether you elect to use the keyboard or USB controller, though I found the suplex counters a bit difficult to execute regardless of input choice (but maybe that’s the idea?). Being able to control running and shooting directions completely independently would’ve made for an even smoother experience in my opinion, but the single stick/d-pad directional system is still perfectly functional and plays naturally with a minimum of inputs, true to the arcadey feeling that all of Pitch’s elements come together to so clearly elicit.
Those arcade sensibilities shine through most clearly in the game’s general structure. As I mentioned earlier the game is a scant four to five levels long, and each of those levels only requires around ten minutes to complete. Death and premature endings come fairly readily at higher difficulties, but even when played to completion this makes for some pretty brief play sessions, and with the issue of diminishing game lengths at the forefront in the gaming community this may sour the prospect of investigating the title for some. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the length works for the type of game; It may be short, but it’s designed more around replicating the “one more quarter” philosophy of the stand-up cabinets of yesteryear and encouraging you to top your last high score than to deliver any kind of meaningful narrative or immersive, thought-provoking personal journey.
Hyper Princess Pitch is ultimately not a terribly substantial game, but it never tries to be and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s interactive, audiovisual candy: bright and cheery and made to scratch a very specific itch, and it accomplishes this effectively. Some will approach this as a challenge to ascend the game’s many tiers of difficulty and stop at nothing short of its total subjugation, some will view it as the occasional diversion from their AAA title du jour or time-killer on the go, but no matter how you choose to look at it I heavily recommend that look if you’re the type who enjoys a bit of ridiculous fun in any quantity.