c_rakestraw's PixelJunk Shooter (PlayStation Network (PS3)) review

It's got some cool ideas, but it fails to make full use of 'em

It's many years in the future, and mankind has expended its reign across the galaxy by colonizing planets far and wide. But with resources depleting as a result of the colonization, expeditions begin being launched across the universe in search of new resources. 

On one such expedition, however, something goes awry, leaving a mining crew trapped on planet Apoxus Prime, along with numerous monsters. Having picked up an SOS signal, a lone ship is sent into the depths of the dangerous planet with one goal in mind: to rescue the trapped miners, and figure out went down in the process.

This is the setup for PixelJunk Shooter, the fourth game in Q Games' series of PlayStation Network titles. You'll learn of what happened from the miners as you rescue in the form of small bits of dialog, but the story isn't really explored much beyond the initial setup, though. This makes it a throwaway story whose only purpose is to provide context for the action. Not that that's a problem, of course, as narrative has never been a key component of the series. Rather, the gameplay is where its focus lies.

The gameplay is like a dual-stick shooter in terms of control, but feels like a puzzle game in terms of actual gameplay. You move about with the left analog stick, use the right to aim the ship at your target, and use R1 button to shoot. It's intuitive. and works well. However, shooting isn't exactly the focus like the title and control style implies. Rather, the focus is on puzzles involving fluids like water, lava, and some black, gooey, magnetic substance.

Each fluid reacts differently to different fluids, and each puzzle requires you to use them, and they're different effects, in various ways. Lava, for example, when put in contact with water, solidifies into a rock like material that is easy blown away with a few shots from your ship's cannons, and when put in contact with gas, it ignites, destroying anything that surrounds it (e.g. enemies, ice, and, of course, you). And water, when in contact with the black goo, causes it to dissipate, allowing you safe passage through wherever it was said goo was guarding.

It may sound like a lot to learn, but the game introduces you to each one slowly, and teaches you how they work whenever they first appear. It helps you grasp the mechanics behind them, but the game spends a little too much time on that, as it devotes entire levels to teaching you the basics of each one. It makes the game feel like one long training mission, because the game game spends more time getting you familiar with everything than it does challenge you.

In fact, the only real challenging parts are at the very end of the game, when all types of fluids and suits (external changes to your ship that switch up the puzzle dynamics by allowing you to fire lava or water, repel the black magnetic goo, or make it so you can move through lava unharmed at the cost of making water your enemy) are in play, and enemies begin to actually pose a bit of threat. It's at this point where the game begins to realize its true potential. But, sadly, the game ends soon after with an unsatisfying "to be continued" message.

Which, in the end, leaves the game feeling like a setup for the inevitable "Encore" follow-up (or whatever they decide to call it). It's a real shame, too. The game has some cool concepts, but it never lets those concepts reach their full potential. That said, it still manages to entertain while it lasts -- it just needs more content.
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