PixelJunk Shooter Review
The PixelJunk series has proven solid and popular, and you can certainly expect Q Games to continue to innovate and inspire. It seems like every new entry is original or unique in some way and once again, PixelJunk Shooter proves that some of the freshest, most addicting titles available come off the PlayStation Network. With wonderfully fluid controls, a constant level of accessibility and intrigue that will keep you playing for hours, and a required combination of reflexes and puzzle-solving ability, this one is well worth your time. The only downside may be that it’s about five or six hours in length, which may or may not be a deal-breaker for some of you (the game costs $9.99). Personally, I think it’s worth the ten bucks but I’m sure opinions will vary. Even so, I do believe that anyone looking to play something refreshingly new will pay the entrance fee, especially if they’ve enjoyed previous PSN titles or prior entries in the this particular series. Besides a few very small drawbacks, PixelJunk Shooter has a good shot at holding your interest throughout.
The graphics are about what you might expect: they present us with an artistic yet understated palette; colorful without being overly vivid, nicely detailed without being intricate, and straightforward without being boring. Most will appreciate this design, provided they’re not foolishly expecting Killzone 2-type graphics for a downloadable title. I particularly enjoyed the animation that affected the elements; the water, lava, gases, tar, and green goo that spilled, splashed, fumed, and oozed its way into my good graces. It made every level feel very alive, despite the lack of any life besides the weird creatures you would occasionally fight and the civilian workers you needed to save. I suppose one could argue against the variety just because you’re always underground and the scenery isn’t exactly luscious, but then again, it serves the atmospheric purpose. I kept thinking they could’ve gone another way and adopted a more brilliant, glittering, cutting-edge style (like Shatter), but that’s more of a personal thing.
A great soundtrack and crystal clear sound effects really give the entire experience a boost, despite the fact that you may find some of the music to be a little…well, odd. It’s like a bizarre cross between techno, electronic and…um…new wave? It’s tough to classify the tracks within but let’s just say they fit the somewhat screwy environment. The effects consist mostly of some simple arcade-y shooting effects along with a few other pieces of audio; the gushing of water, the miniature booms of exploding enemies, the satisfying firing of homing missiles, etc. Much like the graphics, it’s all quite understated and even surreal in some ways, and it works. The balance between soundtrack and effects is also good, as one doesn’t drown out the other even when the music kicks up a notch during tougher encounters. Whether or not you like the kooky soundtrack is really quite subjective but beyond that, you won’t have any issue with the sound.
Like most quality PSN titles, the gameplay and control is simple and nicely implemented. You won’t be complaining about a certain complexity that causes frustration and annoyance, and you won’t be bogged down by poor execution. If something didn’t happen the way you intended, you messed it up. Plain and simple. It’s tough to blame it on the game, even though I continued to have a problem with aiming my weapon fire throughout. I’ll get to that later but for now, the basics- you maneuver this little spaceship in underground territories, killing a few nasties that get in your way, fighting to keep your ship’s temperature down, locating precious gems (resources), and rescuing the workers who need help. Picking up these little people and the gems simply requires a press of the L1 button, which tosses out a mini-grabber of sorts. You can also use this to pick up certain items like creatures that suck up water and lava, allowing you to transport either.
Firing is as simple as pressing the R1 button, which fires a straight missile shot. If you wish to fire a homing missile, you just hold the button down, and this is extremely effective but ups your ship’s heat level quickly. Basically, there is no “health” in the game, unless you count your ship’s heat level, which can spike when getting hit by enemy fire, and nearing lava will cause the temperature gauge to rise as well. You can cool yourself off by steering clear of such problems or just dunking yourself into cool water. This is part of the puzzle aspect of the game; the other part lies in maneuvering through each level and saving the workers you need to save. See, they’re pretty darn vulnerable to anything; errant weapon fire – from either foes or your own ship – can cause them to die, as can lava flows. Therefore, you really have to take your time and tackle each mini-puzzle with a calm demeanor that spawns a lucid, step-by-step solution. Firing wildly about the screen can result in random worker death, as can releasing lava flows without checking out the whole screen.
All of this works extremely well and you’ll soon find yourself caught up in the whole process. It’s not hard, exactly, but it will test a variety of gamer skills. My biggest problem with this whole thing is the aiming mechanic, which is supposed to be simple: you merely rotate the right analog stick and your ship turns 360 degrees, which should sound familiar to old-school arcade shooter fans. But it just wasn’t accurate enough and I continued to have difficulty shooting in the direction I desired. It didn’t seem to work if I only pressed the analog in the appropriate direction; apparently, I had to rotate my way towards it. Just pressing it in one direction would cause my ship to move erratically and it got increasingly irritating as I progressed. This was the lone significant complaint I ended up having but it was annoying enough to get on my nerves. Others may not have this difficulty at all; maybe my brain just doesn’t work that way, with my left thumb just “pushing” and my right “rotating.”
It’s the overall experience that makes PixelJunk Shooter a great little title. Everything comes together well: there’s not too much shooting, not too much puzzle-solving, and there’s a leniency involved that lets you try particular areas and entire levels over again. You’ll want to try and nab all the resources and civilians and when you miss one or two, you’ll probably say something like, “damnit, I need to go back and get them…” The mark of any good game is a desire to keep playing, and this one won’t disappoint. However, like I said in the intro, five or six hours might not be enough for a $10 purchase but hey, there are entire $60 games that won’t last much longer, so… Besides, the boss fights in this game are pretty damn cool; they’re nothing too innovative like the general game setup, but they add an urgency to a game that’s mostly laid-back and leisurely.
If you’re lying in wait for some Christmas presents and don’t have anything to play, and there just so happens to be a winter storm blowing outside, jump online, quickly download this 108MB game, and be satisfied for quite some time.
12/19/2009 Ben Dutka