More than Just a Shooter
The folks at Q-Games know how to put together great downloadable hits. Play around with their games, even for just a few minutes, and you’re sucked right in; the simple gameplay mechanics and quirky visuals mask a tremendous level of depth and fun found in all their titles. Though I wasn’t very impressed with Racer, Monsters and Eden are some of my very favorite arcade games this generation, and Shooter is yet another class effort in the PixelJunk line that any gamer will thoroughly enjoy.
Back at the beginning of the year, Executive Producer Dylan Cuthbert decided that PixelJunk fans were going to name the game, as it’s the engaged masses that have heaped success upon the company. Anyone could participate in the naming contest. Heck, I even joined in – my suggestion was Netherworld – but was roundly denied. The fans overwhelmingly voted for Shooter; a simple name that, much like the first impressions all the games in the PJ series give, belies the true nature of the game. You see, shooting is only one aspect of the title. Granted, it’s an important pillar of the gameplay, but expert level navigation and clever environmental puzzles make PJ Shooter far more than your average arcade shooter.
Set in a future where humanity has expanded across the galaxy, galactic corporations compete to bring hungry consumers the goods, resources, and nourishment they demand. Players, flying solo or with a wingman in tow, form part of an expeditionary flotilla in search of these necessities. Of course, getting the raw materials from alien planets is often dangerous business. As such, players will not only have to collect resources in the cavernous depths, they’ll have to do battle with myriad alien life forms and rescue stranded scientists that have gotten in over their heads.
PixelJunk Shooter’s basic format has you going from stage to stage within varied strata of the planet’s crust, rescuing pioneering co-workers from certain doom. Picking up shiny resource gems along the way is also imperative. In fact, you won’t be able to open up the boss portal and gain access to the next stratum unless you meet the specific gem requirement. Within each stage, strange underground-dwelling creatures as well as tricky environmental hazards will imperil your mission and the stranded people you’re trying to rescue. PJ Shooter is full of obstacles you’ll have to negotiate and combat opportunities such as containing billowing, noxious gasses and blasting lava-spewing critters.
Fortunately, your ship is designed specifically for dealing with these dangers. By directly assaulting your foes with advanced weaponry, or creating pathways and chain reactions to have the environment seed its own demise, you’ll be able to best the threats that beset you. However, don’t be too anxious in their deployment, as stray lasers and hasty mining will lead to disastrous results; it’s very easy to lose your marooned peers to friendly-fire and poorly contained lava flows. Should you suffer casualties, the death toll will be tracked; serving as a reminder of your failures and leading to the “Game Over” screen should you be negligent in your duty. If the death toll meter gets close to filling completely, you can make amends (recuperate slots) by collecting 100 orbs. These orbs are strewn about the environment and released by destroyed aliens. The more critters you take out within several seconds, the greater your point and orb multiplier will be. Consequently, linking enemy kills is a great way to roll back the death toll and boost your high score.
Whether alone or with another intrepid explorer, PixelJunk Shooter offers players a lot of challenging fun. I loved the way I always had to be mindful of overheating, using cool pools of water to protect me from the scorching temperatures of the depths. These reservoirs of water can also be harnessed to quench lava, and I really enjoyed how the resulting igneous rock can be blasted through to reach previously inaccessible areas or cap off vents of deadly gas.
The deeper you progress through Shooter, the more varied and perilous the environmental obstacles and alien creatures become. You have to be pretty ingenious to get through the cleverly designed levels in one piece, let alone set high marks on the leaderboards. Accruing points, doing so cleanly, and in record time all factor into the kinds of scores you’ll be able to post. Those less concerned with rank will be happy know that tough boss battles nicely punctuate each stratum, giving you a quality arcade challenge as well as a change of pace to the puzzle-shooter gameplay.
Music and ambient sounds are always a highlight in the PixelJunk series, and Shooter is no exception. The quirky setting is nicely conveyed through the sound effects and music. The only qualm I had is that the injection of some vocal samples every now and then were unnecessary and jarred me out of the immersion. The visual presentation in PJ Shooter squarely fits in with the rest of the games in the series. Each stratum features a distinct theme and color palette, and the enemy designs are simply, yet attractively created. The most visually impressive element of the game is the way the physics are rendered. The interaction between viscous flows and the way the environment pushes your little shuttle around is natural and sensible. This leads to an excellent control scheme, as well. The PS3 controllers work wonderfully for this title – it’s not like struggling through Namco Essentials. Even the spongy PS3 triggers, which I typically loathe, are perfect for PJ Shooter. Navigating the labyrinthine tunnels with the absolutely precise analog sticks is super-slick. If you decide to play the game remotely on the PSP, you won’t find nearly the same level of control. But, I always applaud developers for including the option.
PixelJunk Shooter isn’t my favorite entry from Q-Games (Eden holds that distinction), but it is one of my favorite games of 2009 – arcade or otherwise. If you are into challenging downloadable titles, PJ Shooter’s got loads of personality and oodles of fun. Playing this game alone or with a friend yields hours of engaging gaming, and simply shouldn’t be missed in the wake of AAA holiday releases.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The visuals are subdued yet pleasant. The physics rendering is outstanding. 4.5 Control
Zooming around the levels, blasting foes, and collecting goodies are all easily pulled off. If you play the game remotely on the PSP, the controls do suffer in comparison. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The ambient sounds and music are great, but perhaps not quite as quality as what was on offer in Eden. 4.5 Play Value
This puzzle-heavy shooter is layered with strategy and strategy throughout its impressive amount of levels. Playing the game solo or with another yield identical though somehow distinct experiences. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.