Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: PixelJunk Shooter - A Pleasant Waste of Time

Title: PixelJunk Shooter
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)
Release Date: December 10, 2009 (US)
Developer: Q-Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
My Rating: 8, very fun to play,
but not much going on.

   PixelJunk Shooter is an original take on a 2D space shooter game from the people that brought popular PlayStation Network games such as PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden.
   The story in PixelJunk Shooter is that you are on a rescue mission to save stranded miners on an exotic planet. An exoplanet was found to have a rare, but valuable, mineral. Many miners were sent there to drill for the mineral, but after digging so far, their equipment turned on them. When trying to retreat, the planet came alive, with monsters attacking them on the way out. Your job is to get in, save as many miners as you can, and destroy the awry machinery.
   As a rescue mission, the gameplay is quite a bit different than what you might expect from your typical shooter. Much of the play in throughout the levels in the three areas is based on clearing obstructions to get to the miners. The obstructions can either be cleared using the guns equipped on your ship; fired with the right shoulder buttons, or using the various liquids that appear in the levels. For example, you will see a lot of ice that can only be cleared using lava. Normally, lava will cause your ship to heat up. If you heat up too much, your ship will explode. However, there are parts of the game that give you the ability to withstand the heat, and at times, actually be impervious to heat while taking damage from cold. Items; including miners, can be picked up with a grappling hook attached to the ship, using the left shoulder buttons. As you progress through the levels, you will encounter some enemies. These come both before and after reaching miners. Therefore, you might think a room is all clear, but will be surprised with some extra monsters popping out on the way to the exit.
   The slower-paced gameplay will definitely not prepare you for the boss battles. There is one for each area; three in all. I found them to be frustratingly difficult, which slightly dampened my view of the game. The bosses are; as you might expect, somewhat tough. This is in disproportion to the rest of the game, which is fairly easy. Because your ship will usually be destroyed in one hit, if you get to the boss without a shield, you will likely find yourself dying time after time while attempting to defeat the boss. Luckily, the boss fights are few and far between. Before you know it, you will figure out the boss and be advancing to the next area.
   As we have come to expect from the PixelJunk brand of games, the visual style in PixelJunk Shooter is pleasantly unique. The surroundings in the levels very much make you feel as if you are in underground caverns on an alien planet. I hate to make this comparison, because the visual style is very different, but I could not help but be reminded of Super Metroid in the thought that you are in a world very different from your own. The color palette is somewhat flat, mostly earthly. There is a lot of blues, browns, yellows, reds, and oranges. The monsters are not like any you have seen in other games. They are mostly mechanical in nature, popping out from the walls to shoot at you as you pass by. As mentioned, this is a 2D game. The background that the sprites and level are drawn over give hint that there is more cavern to explore. To get a full idea of the visual style, I would recommend checking out this E3 trailer available on YouTube.
   The audio track in PixelJunk Shooter adds to the aesthetic appeal of the game. It is a very basic track, but it feels right. The music is very calm, which matches the gameplay. When there are monsters on the screen, it picks up a little bit, but quickly quiets down when the action is over. The sound effects also seem to match with the visual style. They are different enough to set this game apart from other shooters, but are very appropriate for the gameplay and artwork.
   The controls are simple enough to quickly figure out. The left shoulder buttons are used to grab things in the environment. The right shoulder buttons are used to shoot. The left analog stick is used to move around. The right analog stick is used to change the orientation of the ship. For the most part, this all works well. However, I was not a huge fan of some of the physics. At times, it seemed the ship could not move quick enough; even when holding both analog sticks in the same direction to move more quickly. When you did get moving, the little bit of momentum would keep you going a little bit after changing direction. This is to be expected, as we know from basic physics lessons. However, what I did not like was how the orientation of the ship would adjust. Sometimes, I would have the perfect shot lined up, but as I would shoot, the ship would change its angle slightly. I am sure this was done purposefully; perhaps to simulate the recoil of shooting a gun. I just did not care for it much.
   All in all, I would say PixelJunk Shooter will make for a great afternoon for anybody looking to dive into one of the many experiences offered on PlayStation Network. The game is short, so it will not take up too much time from your busy gaming schedule. However, you will instantly fall in love with how the gameplay, visual style, and audio track come together to create this unique shooting experience.

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