Series Link: PixelJunk

Most gamers, when asked to name a key franchise for the PlayStation brand, normally spout the obvious: Killzone, Gran Turismo, WipEout, Ratchet. Indeed, they’re all hot properties and highly lucrative IPs for the company, but they don’t tell the full story, one that in this case would ordinarily side-step the PS3’s digital download service; and whilst the likes of all of the above have appeared on the Store in one form or another (Behind the Bullet, Prologue, HD and Quest for Booty respectively) they’re generally considered to be disk-based retail games, not something that gets pulled down the fibre-optics.

One set of such games bucking the trend is the PixelJunk range, titles of Japanese origin (emerging from Tokyo-based Q-Games) but with a Brit at the helm, Dylan Cuthbert – none of which have graced a Blu-ray despite now being four strong, notwithstanding DLC and portable versions. With a fifth in the pipeline and a sequel to the last, Shooter, ready to roll, we thought we’d take a look at each of the present titles already available to see just what makes them some of the best games available on the increasingly populated Store, starting with a personal favourite and a perfect entry to the series, the top-down squeeze and go Racers.

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Launching in September of 2007, Racers didn’t do a great deal to persuade curious gamers of its core qualities: screenshots look basic, the gameplay mechanics are simple and – at the time – high definition television penetration wasn’t nearly as widespread as it is just now. As a result, the brilliantly crisp visuals were muddy and crude, simple 2D sprites rotating around a flat, pre-baked track as you pulled the trigger to accelerate and dodged left and right with the stick, switching between lanes like a slot car.

The trick, though, is that the first PixelJunk game was as addictive as any narcotic on the street: the first level in particular saw hours of investment from this author as he battled with the other gamers for rule of the leaderboard, the top spot flicking back and forth between myself and another. I’ve long since given up the challenge, mind, and I’m sure I’m no longer even in the top ten, but for a while, those simple tracks and graphics that required squinting just to be able to pick out your car were a perfect marriage with the instant, exacting control method. In retrospection, Racers is probably too hardcore for some, but I loved it and, one day, I’ll boot it up and see what’s new.

The second title, PixelJunk Monsters, was a far more commercial proposition. It appeared at the beginning of 2008 (with expansions and a PSP version following on) and was essentially a Tower Defence game, albeit one with pre-set levels rather than an open grid like Fieldrunners – and was all the better for it by virtue of its principle character and associated aesthetics, the 2D sprites exceptionally detailed and animated with a charm rarely seen in the genre.

By making the player physically move around the screen to be able to build towers (you could only build where trees were planted) Monsters introduced a twist that meant you had to avoid the oncoming monsters whilst all the time building and upgrading towers to suit the particular type of encroaching swarm. It was tough, very tough, although a second player added to the mix would mean that you could distribute the responsibilities even if the coins you needed to collect from downed monsters wasn’t doubled. A great game, and one that set the studio up nicely for the third, Eden.

Eden launched to much hype, its unknown mechanics remaining a surprise for many until they got their hands on the game itself, or the demo which pre-empted the release. Although once again an entirely 2D affair, Eden was a complete departure from the previous two games by offering up a pseudo-platforming affair set to pulsing electronic music from Japanese producer Baiyon.

Controlling the Grimp (a play on words between grip and jump) provokes a joyous sense of freedom, your extended leaps as you make your way around the organic, evolving landscape precise and exacting, your mission to collect the various Spectra a delicious one, especially after the game was patched to make completing each ‘garden’ much easier by removing the otherwise devilish timer which could be topped up with crystals but only at the expense of a certain amount of rote repetition. Eden is a powerful, expressive audio-visual treat and one that I personally adore.

The final game to be released though, was Shooter, and it’s undoubtedly the best. Shooter hit the Store at the very end of 2009, and saw the player at the helm of a small spacecraft sent in to rescue survivors trapped in large subterranean caverns – doing so opens up additional levels which revolve around various rock and elemental types, from magma to ice. The fourth game in the series stands out for several reasons, not least of all the wonderful visuals, but also the brilliant way in which the elements play against others, your ship and your missiles, creating smart puzzles and some impressive physics.

Shooter represents the zenith of the current PixelJunk crop, its scope way beyond previous games and the production values outstripping most of what we see on the Store with ease – it’s supremely playable on a basic level but dig deep and the collection of the hidden crystals and the desire to save each and every underground surviver is compulsive, not least of all for the 100% complete level select screen and the collection of accompanying Trophies. A must own for every PlayStation 3 owner.

Hopes are high for Shooter 2, due this year, and whatever ends up being PixelJunk 5.

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27 Comments

  1. I’m very much looking forward to Pixeljunk Lifelike (here’s hoping it doesn’t require Move).

    • If that’s the visualiser i’m looking forward to hearing more about that too.

  2. I loved Shooter, one of my favourite PSN games. Eden got me a bit annoyed whenever I fell and have to make all the way back to the top.

  3. I loved all 4 pixeljunk games, even got 100% trophies on all 4 :)

    Racers is my least favourite, but still an amazing addictive game. I’d struggle to pick my favourite from the other 3, they are all must haves for ps3 owners if you ask me

    • 100% trophies on all 4? Impressive.

  4. You forgot to add that PixelJunk Racers got upgraded last year to 2nd Lap, available for free to all PixelJunk Racers owners, with new modes, challenges and trophies :)

  5. While Racer and Eden isn’t really for me, I have nothing but respect for what PJ are doing. I’ve been loving Shooter all over again these past few days and can’t wait to get my mitts on the sequel.

    Is Dylan around to answer questions? I just want to know if local co-op is still in there. It’s a day one purchase regardless but I’d love for it to still be there as a game option.

    • Hello there, yes I am around here from time to time – local co-op is still in there! Online versus has been added and it’s incredibly addictive!

      • Ah, bloody hell, Dylan. You know how to make a man happy (not a line you want to read every day). :-) That’s truly, truly wonderful news.

        Thanks for sticking your head around the corner at TSA. You have no idea how much respect we have for people in the industry when they do this. Good luck with the launch of Shooter 2. Can I ask if there’s going to be a Shooter 3? In light of the naming (and the journey we’re taking):

        PJ Shooter: Depths of Disaster
        PJ Shooter 2: Belly of the Beast

        Might we see:

        PJ Shooter 3: Blasted out of the Bum? If so, your fluid dynamics…. ah, I’m stopping now.

  6. PJ Monsters and Shooter are brilliant, two the best PSN titles.
    Unfortunately Eden was ruined by the time limit/collect crystals to get a few more seconds game mechanic. Without that it would’ve been a great and unique platformer. With it, it’s just plain annoying.

    • According to the article it got patched? So would you say that Eden was/is worth a punt if the times have indeed been removed Yogh??

      • The timers were softened a lot in the post-release patch, but they are part of what makes the game a challenge so removing them would have destroyed the game. (we obviously tested this internally and found the game became a throw-away experience which is something we weren’t happy with)

        We get lots of mail from people who say Eden is the best in the series so it is perfect for some. :)

      • Ah thanks for clearing that one up Dylan – As Mike mentioned above, it’s always appreciated when people in the industry actually care enough about their products to answer the queries of their fans.

      • Gah, was stoked after reading the article that the timer was removed. Gutted to find it still present when I fired it up. The game is so mellow and relaxing (and trippy), except the timer makes it so stress-filled it sucks away all the fun. Timer on 1-up mode makes sense, but the difficulty in multiplayer comes from when the camera tracks the wrong [subjectively :) ] falling player and you have to climb all the way back up (as well as generating a lot of banter at the expense of the hapless faller).
        So I’d remove the timer from multiplayer, and just make the camera more bloody-minded. The game I equate this to the most is Flower – can you imagine what Flower would be like with a timer?

  7. Played a lot of PJ Monsters. Shooter was great too, but didn’t top it for me.

  8. As an added note: Look at the article clipart of all of their games. Lovely variety going on. From simple vector style to slightly cartoony (Monsters) to matchbox racing but highly detailed. Good on them.

  9. Only got into PJ with Shooter, but Shooter got me into it in a big way as it was excellent – I will be picking up PJ Shooter 2 without a doubt. I have also considered picking up both Racers & Eden at points as a result although i have not yet taken the plunge (Mosters unfortunately doesn’t appeal as i hate TD games).

    • Hey there, Monsters is slightly different to “TD” games – the very raw center is TD but it has been wrapped up to feel more like a Nintendo game with controls similar to something like Zelda or other top down “walk-a-bout” games. Give the demo a go to see if it can’t turn you on to it (it’s our most popular game in the PixelJunk series).

      • Thanks again Dylan – That being the case, I may just give it a try.
        If I was able to use a smiley in these comments, I think I would be inserting a ‘thumbs up’ one right about now! :)

      • I was addicted to Monsters. “Rainbowed” a shed load of maps but had to stop as myself and Mrs. Kovacs were starting to spend every evening screaming at one another.

        “A LASER? WTF! Why would you build a bloody LASER!?”

        Thanks for that, Dylan.
        ;)

      • Hahahaha… Kovacs. Exactly the same situation with me (last year). “Why would you do that? Do you see air attacks coming? No you do not. Dopey bitch!”.

        Then watch as one of us goes to bed well before the other one. Frosty much? :-)

  10. Good reading and I have all four and still play them all though I’m a long way away from getting all the available trophies. Without a shadow of a doubt, Eden is my favourite of the bunch by a country mile and Shooter probably my least favourite though I’d still say it’s among the best of what the store has to offer and I look forward to the sequel.

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