Replay Value: 6.5
PixelJunk 4am is one of those games that may not qualify as a “video game.” It’s more like a relatively engaging interactive experience set to music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when a title, despite its obvious charm and originality, lacks a concrete identity, it’s tough to recommend it because the reviewer can’t nail down the intended audience. So perhaps it’s best to say this- If you need to relax and have a special fondness for music, you should give it a try.
The visuals are a big part of the aforementioned experience, even if they’re mostly restricted to a lot of abstract and non-representational (the only term I remember from my Art History class in college) designs. It’s an extraordinarily artistic display and the best part is that you have control over the presentation. It’s not exactly bursting with vibrant hues but then again, the PixelJunk series has always given us lighter, almost muted pastel shades in their productions. If you’re an avid virtuoso, though, you can make the screen come alive.
Obviously, the audio is the single biggest element (with PlayStation Move control a close second) and thankfully, Q-Games understands this. There aren’t quite enough pieces of music from which to choose and as a direct result, the production can feel somewhat threadbare. But the quality is undeniable and because you’re allowed to be as creative and inventive as humanly possible, you will appreciate the diverse tunes your speakers emit. The balancing never really seems off and all in all, the game’s focus on a decent soundtrack is expected and appreciated.
As I said above, it’s hard to place the latest PixelJunk entry into any given category. I labeled it “Music” because in truth, music is at this “game’s” core, but it won’t resemble any music-based title you’ve played in the past; in fact, it more closely resembles a music software mixing program. You can create at will and there’s no such thing as “dying” or making “bad” music for which you will be penalized. This is all about letting your imagination and musical inclination off the leash, which will result a veritable, fulfilling feast for both the eyes and ears.
You can play with either the standard Dual Shock controller or the PlayStation Move, but I would advise going with the Move, just because it seems to fit better. It feels much more dynamic and in a strange way, it’s almost like you’re conducting your very own electronic orchestra… You’ll be guided through some simple tutorials at the start, which involve effects, loops, and reverbs, and then you’re off and running. Various canvases – music tracks with visualizers – are available to try, and each canvas boasts four separate tracks: Synth, Rhythm, Bass, and Drum.
That part reminded me a little of Amplitude, but the game is nowhere near as restricting or linear. This is really a freeform experience and you’re encouraged to experiment to your heart’s content. If you like, a friend can join you; he or she can assist in developing more advanced techniques with the aid of two Move controllers. Or the other person can create new music if they so choose. Then there’s the innovative approach to the social angle, which involves the very cool and decidedly innovative Live Viewer. Any player’s performance is visible to other participants on the PSN, which is kinda daunting but still a major plus.
If someone else likes your vibe, he’ll shoot over a “kudos” by waving the Move controller during the performance. If you’re confident in your skills and are convinced you’ll earn plenty of kudos, you can inform your friends of your performance via Facebook and Twitter. You might have to do this a lot at first because as you might expect, there aren’t a huge number of random PSN users sitting around watching your creativity. This isn’t Call of Duty, ya know. Still, the Live Viewer is definitely a feature that should be utilized – and expanded upon – in the future.
The control is fine, even if using the Move isn’t always 100% accurate. Sometimes I felt like it didn’t read an obvious gesture of mine, which seemed odd, considering the pinpoint accuracy of that peripheral. Still, because there are basically no consequences, you’re never frustrated nor do you feel short-changed; you might want to start over or something, but that’s about it. The only issue here is that because it’s so laid-back and carefree, one can lose interest relatively fast. On the one hand, you’ve got a unique stress-reliever; on the other, you’ve got something that, while satisfying in the short term, doesn’t demand your attention for long periods of time. And that's a drawback.
PixelJunk 4am is unique and interesting. It’s perfect if you’re an enthusiastic music lover who might find hardcore mixing programs to be too complicated. This lets you invent and create with a variety of intriguing tunes, and the Move compatibility makes it feel that much more involving and dynamic. It just lacks some punch as there is no real competition, and the production feels less robust than past entries in this well-received and popular series. It’s entirely unorthodox from top to bottom, though, and that might be enough to convince you. It helps if you have a friend or two willing to check out your performance; just bear that in mind.
The Good: Good music and visual accompaniment. Unique and creative. No-penalty, freeform setup is relaxing. Using the Move makes it a better experience. Live Viewer is really cool and potentially evolutionary.
The Bad: Production feels a little thin. Control isn’t 100% perfect. Not enough people to make Live Viewer a game-changer.
The Ugly: “Damn…this is so cool but I’m getting a little bored…”