I had heard nothing about Pixel Quest before I loaded it up. The instructions boasted of its addictiveness and stated "solve each puzzle to gradually reveal heroes and other famous pixel images from your favourite Speccy games, against an amazing soundtrack by top composer MmcM".
Now, from about two seconds into this game, I was hooked. This might have something to do with the fact that I spent my pre-teenage years designing sprites on graph paper and then inputting them into my Spectrum. Pixel Quest turns that rather tedious procedure into a challenge in its own right. I even kidded myself that, being familiar with the 8x8 CHR$ matrices of yesteryear might make me a natural at solving its puzzles. However, that wasn't the only hook factor. That music is every bit as "amazing" as the inlay describes and, from the moment the title screen appears, the collection of loud, raucous and bouncy pop tunes are almost works of art in their own right.
It's actually hard to convey the idea of Pixel Quest in text and, from screenshots, it will look like nothing more than a bland, computerised version of cross-stitch. Basically, you are given an empty grid. Let's imagine it's 12 pixels by 12 pixels (Earlier ones are much smaller). Across the top of each column, and to the left of each row, sits a combination of numbers. For example, if a row's combination reads 12, that means every pixel in that row should be turned on, hence 111111111111. Do that and the number 12 will dim, indicating that the row is set correctly.
That's easy, but if a row's combination reads 3-1-1-3, what is required is more ambiguous. Squares within the grid must be flipped to 11101010111. The problem with such a combination however, is that you have twelve pixels to fill, so either 011101010111 or 111010101110 will be "accepted". Glance up at the columns above, where you have similar combinations to adhere to, and you may be able to deduce which one is correct. Alternatively, choose one for the time being and then shuffle it to the other if need be.
Lo and behold, as you begin setting the rows and columns to the combinations required, a sprite will begin to emerge. The objective is to have each row and every column combination "accepted", meaning the sprite is correct.
Now if that all sounds Greek to you, then I'd recommend you visit youtu.be/qXKqWdLG_XA for a more illuminating demonstration.
The only small gripe I had with Pixel Quest was that, whilst you can move a cursor to plot each pixel, you can't "shift" left, right, up or down the entire row/column. This meant that, a few times, I found myself having to tediously move along rows turning one bit off and the next bit on. Also, although the sprites come from "famous" Spectrum games, I didn't recognise a single one of them!
Pixel Quest is a class act in all respects: engaging, puzzling, frustrating and mesmerising. Whilst the game itself is taxing in its own right, anyone who has ever designed sprites for the 8 bit machines will also love the warm feeling of nostalgia that accompanies each game. The phenomenal soundtrack, admittedly a curious ingredient for a puzzle game, lifts this game head and shoulders over other puzzlers on the Spectrum. Make sure therefore that you're playing on a 128K Spectrum so you get the full experience - the 48K version doesn't have the music.
Available free from sites.google.com/site/speccy21/home. (Search for "Pixel Quest".)