PixelJunk Shooter
by Polly

Note: Game played only in Single Player mode.

Having owned a PlayStation 3 for just a little over a year now, I think it's clear that I'm obviously putting the goddamn thing through its paces. Having covered such blockbusters as Bionic Commando and Flower so far, I think it's safe to say that nobody's got this whole PlayStation 3 nailed down as well as I do! Of course, I jest, but having collected about fifteen games so far and only finished maybe four of them, some might be led to believe that I really just don't care for the thing. That's not really true, though. Honestly, I just find myself incredibly bored of gaming as of late and it's hard to get motivated to want to play through anything anymore. Thankfully, not all hope is gone it seems, because I was recently able to finish up this game here. Else, why would I even be writing about it?

PixelJunk Shooter is the fourth game of the PixelJunk series of PSN-exclusive downloadable games released by Q-Games. Admittedly, it's the first in the series I've ever played, mostly because I never liked the premise of PixelJunk Racers or Monsters, and PixelJunk Eden's demo alone just confused the fucking fuck out of me. However, throw a spaceship in something and the promise of arcade shooty action, and then you've got my attention. And my $9.99.

If you've played Solar Jetman on the NES, then I'd imagine the video at the top of the page and the screenshots throughout this review may seem a bit familiar to you. It's true that both games do have some things in common, but the chief difference is that PixelJunk Shooter doesn't suck complete buttpipe.

The setup is simple: You pilot a small rescue vessel to a planet being mined for resources in order to rescue miners and scientists that had the unfortunate luck of ending up stranded miles and miles below the planet's surface. As you venture deeper into the unknown world and rescue more scientists, you'll come to discover what exactly is going on that caused the planet to go haywire.

Despite its name, PixelJunk Shooter is actually much more of a puzzle game than it is a hard-boiled shooter. A revelation that I was initially disappointed with, but very quickly learned to get over. Your objective in each small area is to rescue a certain number of survivors and optional scientists in order to proceed to the next area, doing so until you finish each stage. Allowing five survivors to perish either by the planet's own natural defenses or your own itchy trigger finger ends the game and you'll have to replay the stage. Rescuing survivors can be as simple as busting up rock formations that they may be trapped behind and eliminating enemy threats that are gunning them down, and can get as complex as figuring out tricky ways to channel rivers of magma and noxious gas to other areas of a stage so that survivors can be reached safely. The whole premise remains very simple throughout the entire game, with only the methods of rescue becoming more and more daunting as you progress. As you delve deeper and deeper into the planet, you begin to feel a sense of satisfaction when figuring out some of the more tricky areas the game has to offer, and the challenge rises at a consistent level all the way through, with enemies becoming more resilient and puzzles becoming much trickier.

Perhaps PixelJunk Shooter's biggest claim to fame is its fluid physics, which factor heavily into how various challenges must be met. Every liquid in the game has its own characteristics and reacts differently with one another as well as reacting to your own actions. Burning-hot magma coming into contact with water will cool the Magma and begin creating rock formations that you'll have to plow through, water will gush from geyser like setups in realistic fashion creating large pools safe for your own ship and survivors, and a strange black metallic liquid will bend and contort to the force of magnets. Not only is it all very interesting to see in action, but it gives the game a gimmick and new puzzle dynamic that keeps it from feeling like just another dual-stick shooter being released in the wake of Geometry Wars' success.

Your little yellow rescue vessel comes equipped with more than enough fun toys to handle the job, including a standard blaster, homing missiles, and a spin attack used to cut through tough rock formations and deflect enemy bullets. All of this is easily taken care of with the analog sticks and shoulder buttons. Throughout the game, you'll have to monitor your ship's temperature to keep from overheating (largely caused by hot conditions or firing too many homing missiles), and ultimately dying. Thankfully there's plenty of water you can plop your ailing ship down into in order to rescue yourself from the brink of death. Even better is that when your little ship is going down in flames it's still possible to steer it to some degree, so it's more than feasible to save a life lost by always trying to handle tricky situations around bodies of liquid that would be beneficial should something go catastrophic.

The best part however, is your ship's ability to slip into different "suits" that can change its capabilities significantly. For instance, the Magma Suit turns your standard blaster into a magma-spewing cannon which is great for melting any ice obstacles in your way, but also causes your ship's temperature to climb significantly, and can be instantly fatal should you accidentally douse yourself. The Water Suit functions much the same, only with water, and allows you to cool down pools of magma, as well as pull away large chunks of ice to reach stranded survivors. The Inverter Suit lets you fly freely into magma, but ice and water become instantly fatal. Finally, the Magnetic Suit allows you to play around with the black metallic liquid in the final areas of the game to solve various puzzles or clear out areas that you otherwise couldn't reach. The game's pretty good about introducing these upgrades in a balanced manner, and they're yet another reason why the game ends up being more than "just another shooter." I guess one minor problem here is that the in-game manual isn't 100% clear on the capabilities of some of the suits and normal actions, so you may have to experiment on a couple stages to figure out what the game's wanting you to do.

The game is composed of fifteen increasingly difficult stages spread out over three differently-themed areas. While it may seem a lot, each stage is actually fairly short, and can usually almost always be completed in around 10-15 minutes once you're familiar with the game's mechanics, and anywhere from 4-7 minutes once you're familiar with the stage itself. In order to progress to new areas, you must collect a certain number of diamonds, which are tucked away in each stage. If you're diligent going through each stage it's possible to exit with every hidden diamond. Just blast away every wall of rock and ice you see, try to fly into every tunnel, and look in every pool of magma, water, or gas and you're sure to find them all. Finding all the diamonds and rescuing all the scientists and survivors is the only real replay value the game offers other than whoring for score. The game's never really all that difficult, other than the second boss encounter, whose randomness can actually become quite unnerving and really fuck up high score grinding should he decide to be a dickball. Other than that, most people looking for a quick pick-up-and-play'er won't have much trouble blazing through the game in an evening if they don't really care all that much about score or finding all the secrets.

PixelJunk Shooter's visuals that aren't liquids and gases end up looking an awful lot like Flash vector-based graphics, only they're presented in very clean and crisp-looking 1080p (screenshots and video were in 720p due to limitations of my current PC monitor). The backgrounds all look nice and decently varied throughout each of the game's three areas, and enemies and boss monsters look decent, but they never truly stand out like I'd want them to. The liquids are the true stars here, and that's fine since that's the entire point of the game anyway. It's really fun playing with the liquids and just watching them to react to your actions and one another. The liquid metal in particular is quite fun to play around with, especially when you have the inverted magnet suit thingy going on. The only time before this that I can remember any other game trying to do liquid physics was the sixth stage of Gradius V, but it should surprise no one that since that's what this game's focused on that it blows Gradius V's attempt clean out of the.......water. DAHAHAHA! So, while the backgrounds and enemies lack a bit of zazz, in no way does that mean that the game is terrible to look at.

The game's soundtrack is provided by High-Frequency Bandwidth, a duo of good ol' chaps from Britain Land that produce a nice and mellow set of trip-hop pieces that suit the game quite well. The pieces themselves never quite match the themes of the stages, but instead, like the various liquids in the game, transform dynamically with the action on screen, so every time you play the game, you'll more than likely hear a different version of each track depending on how you play. The entire game having a consistent theme of being dynamic really helps tie the whole thing together in a way that most games' presentations lack. Whereas most games' graphics and audio feel like separate entities almost all the time, PixelJunk Shooter's approach makes everything looks, sound, and feel like one cohesive experience that would collapse if one of them went missing.

Honestly, about the only things PixelJunk Shooter has going against it are that it's a bit on the short side and a couple of somewhat irritating bits mostly related to boss fights. Other than that, it's a mildly quirky and relaxing puzzler/shooter hybrid that's sure to delight the old-school crowd, be a pleasant surprise for the indie snobs who think everything has to look like psychadelic vomit, and certainly entertain those that find themselves fairly tired of today's more modernized, "the next blockbuster" offerings.

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