T o grossly paraphrase a famous quote, Pixeljunk is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Home grown on the Playstation 3 as some of the premier titles on the then newborn network, about the only thing the series has ever shared is it’s signature art style. Switching genre is nothing to this series, but opts rather to turn genre on it’s head with almost every entry. Pixeljunk Shooter and it’s sequel almost predictably did just that, eschewing the score chasing conventions of it’s older brothers like Geometry Wars and Super Stardust for a far more cerebral adventure.
Score is a side note at best here, rather choosing to wrap itself in the basic framework of a team of scientists, trapped on the surface of a planet and the player as the lone rescue ship sent to recover them. Flavour text when you rescue head scientists fleshes out the actual goings on of the situation, but it’s all background noise to the action. Ultimate bundles the two PS3 entries into a continuous experience, offering a far more lengthy, valuable package than either of the original titles.
The half dozen, give or take zones are split into about 5 stages, each with about 4 levels to a stage. A stage can be knocked out in about thirty minutes, which works to the advantage of Vita players who want to go spelunking during a bus ride, and the controls are simple enough to fit on either platform it’s available on. The ships basic equipment includes a rudimentary blaster and a grappling hook, though other section specific suits pop up later to give more direct command over elements.
The game really shines when it asks you to take these basic tools to manipulate your environment to your advantage. Temperature of your ship is everything, and overheating spells doom. While things you do, such as firing missiles or ramming into enemies can heat you up, but the elements of the planet take centre stage again. The effect of Lava and water should be obvious to any newcomers, while others have more subtle effects.
Pixeljunk takes its handful of elements and has them all interact in unique ways, such as cooling water and lethal lava meeting to create rock and neutralizing both of it’s parts, or gas interacting with either of the previous to explode violently or freeze leisurely. The interplay of the elements creates more of a puzzle game environment then standard dual stick shooter setup.
As previously stated, the goal is to rescue the scientists trapped beneath the planet’s surface, of which there are five in each section. They are rather fragile, and five of them getting fried by anything from the wildlife to an errant shot from your own ship will force you to start over the section. You’re also encouraged to keep an eye out for diamonds, dotted around each level and typically out of the way enough to demand searching, and contributes to the unique pace of the game. They are mandatory to collect, opening up the end of world bosses that mix the unique mechanics of the game with a more standard shooter fair to scratch that itch.
The Playstation 4 takes the entire game and gives it a great, 1080p facelift. Liquids move more convincingly and now appear less opaque. The ship itself moves and angles more freely, and gives off a soft light on surrounding objects. Effects like heat shimmer that didn’t make the cut in the PS3 versions only further the presentation. This isn’t meant to lessen the Playstation Vita port, which looks on par with the generation seven versions and plays just as smooth as any other version. Cross buy and Cross save are both supported, so you can always pick up your game on the go or at home, though the cross-save system is structured confusingly, being half automatic and half player controlled. How you like the techno inspired soundtrack is entirely up to the player, though personally I could do without it.
The game comes with the multiplayer mode that Pixeljunk Shooter 2, taking a page from modern FPS and putting its own spin on it. The mode plays like a variation of Capture the flag, asking you to rescue more scientists from the stage, or your foes stockpile for the daring. Winning matches earns money that can go towards perks like a rudimentary radar or traps for the opposing player. The same problem that plagued the original game also returns though, and that’s the simple fact that a game like this isn’t pulling in much, if any player base. The few that are sticking around are so far ahead of the curve that it’s not welcoming to new players.
Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is certainly a unique title, eschewing the conventions of it’s genre and wrapped in a shiny new package, it maintains the Pixeljunk legacy of being among the premier titles on the Playstation network. With vastly improved visuals, the flawless control Whether on Vita or PS4, and getting what is in essence two games for the price of one, Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is a tremendous package with a lot of value. Should something a little different out of a dual stick shooter sounds intriguing, then it’s easy to recommend Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.