“I’m sad to say,” said the doctor, peering at the results on his clipboard and shaking his big, medical head, “you’re not well. Your blood pressure is high, your pupils are dilated and you’re shaking. And your face is all red, which is never a good sign”.
“COMMANDER PIXMAN!”, I shouted. “COMMANDER PIXMAAAANNNNN!!!!”
The game started simply enough. Installation costs nothing, after all, and I’d already enjoyed a few games from the same publisher - the excellent Super Stickman Golf games, Boxcat and the Android version of QWOP. The tiny, 8-bit Commander Pixman ran about the place in his green space suit, shooting aliens and jumping chasms to some fun chiptunes music. For almost an hour, it was a really cracking little game.
Then, around level 20, it got tricky. Not a problem – difficult games are all the rage these days. Some masochistic pleasure centre in gamers’ brains is obviously tickled by the tooth-gnashing difficulty of Battletoads, Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy. The levels in Commander Pixman are tiny – all last under a minute, and some can be completed in under five seconds – so the frustration doesn’t last long, even when a helpful message pops up with ’25 deaths’ or ’50 deaths’.
What does start to grate, though, is the little SKIP sign that appears after you’ve died 10 or 15 times on a level. Tap it and you can go through, if you’re willing to cough up a US$1 (S$1.24) in-app payment. Which, of course, you’re not.
What’s worse is that while most of the levels in Commander Pixman are tough but doable, every now and then there’s a level which is obviously designed to get S$1.24 out of you, because it's almost completely impossible. The deaths mount up but you know you can’t give in, because to give up S$1.24 now would be a betrayal of everything you’ve worked for. You’re no longer playing the game, you’re learning a programme of timed responses, mechanistically training your muscles like one of those whey-faced social outcasts who spends 25 years playing Donkey Kong in a shed. Only when all joy has been removed from the game, when you’re sat on the toilet at 2am, your phone hot in your sweating palms, does Commander Pixman make it to the teleport zone.
Once you're past each of these rage-inducing levels, you're rewarded with 10 hard-but-manageable stages, and these are superb train-journey boredom killers, it's just that after a handful of them, you hit level 63, and you’re back in the Repeat Zone. Would you like to SKIP? Are you SURE? It’s only S$1.24. You could pay S$1.24 and just forget all about it and NNNNGGGGG!!!! Calm down. You’ll get it next time. You just need to time the jump slightly better. Or maybe you can't. Maybe you’ll never get it, and they’ll find you, boggle-eyed and emaciated in a cupboard under the stairs, jabbing slowly at a dull screen, softly weeping The Pixman’s name over and over and over again.
Or maybe you're just better at Commander Pixman than I am.