Giant Bomb Review

34 Comments

PixelJunk Shooter Review

4
  • PS3N

PixelJunk Shooter's considerable charm and clever mechanics make it stand out, but it ends without fully realizing its potential.


You can shoot that lava straight up into the air, if you like. Just make sure you get out of the way first. 
Though the latest entry in Q-Games' series of quirky downloadable games is called PixelJunk Shooter, gunning down enemies isn't really the game's central kick... but that's a catchier title than PixelJunk Fluid Dynamics or PixelJunk Oh God Stay Away From The Lava would have been. Shooter is at its best when it's requiring you to puzzle out the best way to stay out of the lava as you attempt to carefully extract human survivors from the depths of an alien planet. The unfortunate part is that the game feels like it spends most of its time on easy, almost tutorial-like levels that illustrate how the world's different substances work together. And by the time you've got it all figured out, it ends.

PixelJunk Shooter controls similarly to the average dual-joystick shooter, but you'll use R1 to fire, rather than just pointing the right stick in a direction to start shooting. The L1 button is used to fire your claw, which scoops up human survivors, bonus diamonds that are strewn about the levels, and a few other objects. If you hold down R1, you'll fire out missiles, which are more powerful than your normal shots. But firing missiles generates heat, which is the true enemy in PixelJunk Shooter.

Instead of a shield meter or some sort of hull integrity graph, the measure of your wellness is a heat gauge. Doing things like getting near lava or drifting through hot smoke will cause your heat gauge to start creeping up. If it fills, your ship starts to crash downward, which will probably kill you unless you happen to touchdown in a pool of water. Water is plentiful in these underground areas, and submerging yourself instantly cools you off.

The interplay between the fiery lava and bodies of water is central to PixelJunk Shooter. When the two substances collide, the water dissipates as the lava is cooled and turned into a soft solid that you can shoot through. This gives you ways to proceed down through pools of lava, which usually leads to a survivor or two. Other substances add a bit more complexity to these interactions, like hot gas that rises out of the ground in some levels. If it connects with lava, the gas starts exploding, which will cause you to overheat if you're caught in the blast area, but it's also useful for blasting through walls of ice. There's also an oily, magnetic substance in later levels that reacts with water to form more of that explosive gas. All of this state-changing fluid might sound complicated, but the game introduces you to these interactions very slowly and deliberately, making it nearly impossible to miss.

It's a bit easier, however, to miss all of the diamonds that are hidden around the corners of many levels. You grab the diamonds just like you were picking up a human, and at first, they just seem like any other collectible bonus item. But the diamonds are actually more important than the humans, as you won't be allowed into an episode's final area unless you've collected enough diamonds to open the area. It's a bit of a weird mechanic, at first, since the game puts way more of a visible emphasis on saving humans. While losing too many humans will force you to retry a level, as soon as you slow down and stop unloading as many bullets as possible into every threat in your path, saving the humans is easy, and they're all right out in the open. This forced me to backtrack on a few occasions, as I'd have no trouble saving every human in an area, but I'd still have to find more diamonds before I could proceed. Once you know what to look for, finding diamonds isn't especially challenging, either.

Mechanically, PixelJunk Shooter is awesome. The viscous fluids slosh around believably, and manipulating them in various ways is really satisfying. You'll also find power-up suits that make some levels feel a little different by giving you the ability to survive in lava (at the expense of making water completely deadly), repel the gooey magnetic fluid, or shoot water or lava out of your ship. You'll even have to deal with three boss fights, one for each episode, which is the one place where the name "Shooter" makes a ton of sense. But PixelJunk Shooter doesn't give you enough levels that put all of its different elements together. There are no massive, fluid-based puzzles in Shooter. In fact, as you proceed and discover new fluids, the game devotes a few too many levels to simply illustrating how the new fluids or power-ups you're encountering interact with one another. The last few levels of the game are great, but just as it's settling into a groove and starting to actually get challenging, you're confronted by a final boss and the game ends, offering little more than a "to be continued" screen.

All of the fluids have a gooey thickness to them that makes them move in interesting and realistic ways. 
There are, of course, additional options for completists. The game keeps track of how many diamonds you've collected and which levels you've cleared without letting any humans die, so replaying those areas to completely clear them is certainly an option. You can also play through the entire game with a second player. This makes minimal changes to some levels, usually in spots where both players would need an inverter suit to get through some lava. But it doesn't dramatically change the game, plus it also forces both players to remain relatively close together, as the action doesn't zoom out or split into two screens to let players roam a bit more freely. With those limitations, areas of the game require a lot of communication and cooperation, so it makes some sense that it's limited to local players. But since the level continues forward as long as one player is alive, and players that fail are respawned after ten seconds of down time, there isn't too much incentive to actually cooperate. PixelJunk Shooter is better as a solo mission.

Despite feeling like the tutorial mode for its eventual Encore-style follow-up, PixelJunk Shooter's unique mechanics and terrific audiovisual design still make it stand out in ways that most downloadable releases lack. Like the other games in the line, PixelJunk Shooter's got style. The great-looking graphics and cohesive soundtrack make it a lot easier to look past the game's structural issues and a lot easier to recommend, too. PixelJunk Shooter is most definitely worth playing, but it leaves you wanting more in both the positive and negative senses of the term. Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
34 Comments
Posted by Coltonio7

You should be paintballing right now, Jeff.

Posted by JJOR64

This looks like a great game that you can pick up and play for like an hour and be satisfied.

Posted by erinfizz

Might have to try this. Dual joystick shooters usually stress me out enough that I don't find them fun, but I do enjoy puzzles and nice art style.

Posted by Legend

Yeah I figured when I saw what you wrote about the game on twitter that you'll give it a good score.

Posted by Misuma

I  waited a long time for this little gem and I'm still not dissapointed.

Posted by DBrim
@JJOR64: When I played through, I did it in 30 minute bursts between studying.  It was quite satisfying, but I have trouble gaming for more than a couple of hours in a row, anyhow.
Edited by Spiritof

I was waiting for it, and it finally came. The game can be summed up in one sentence:

Despite feeling like the tutorial mode for its eventual Encore-style follow-up, PixelJunk Shooter's unique mechanics and terrific audiovisual design still make it stand out in ways that most downloadable releases lack.

Posted by Xeiphyer

I agree completly. My only complaint about the game other than length, is that it doesn't have a level editor or free play mode.. I would love to play around with the different liquids and stuff. I messed around in a few levels with the lava suit, putting rock all around an area where water was flowing.. letting it build up pressure (It even starts leaking from spots after a while! thats detail!) and then letting it burst and flood the level. totally awesome.
 
hopefully the DLC stuff will have that, itd be great.

Posted by RobotHamster

Def picking this one up, ten bucks isn't that bad 

Online
Posted by Andre

After watching the quick look, this game alone makes me want a PS3. 

Posted by bluemantra

This game is so worth the $10. I want a pixeljunk shooter theme for the ps3 now, a dynamic one would be pretty sweet. I'd pay for it if necessary....

Posted by Addfwyn

I loved this game, it's one of the games I got for the PS3 I picked up and finished in a few sittings (about three sittings of maybe a couple hours each). 
 
Well worth the $10, and I'll probably get some more gameplay out of it, milking out the trophies (missing treasures on most every level).

Posted by KinjiroSSD

Well written review Jeff. It's unfortunate to read that its on the short side after sinking hour after hour into Eden and still not completing it.

Posted by Pie

Looks  awesome but I dont have a PS3. 
 
Also Jeff, maybe because its late at night and im not functioning properly but I found your uses of commas overpowering. Dont do something like this "mushrooms, chilli, apples, and shoes" there shouldn't be  a comma after "apples". 
Also you use a lot of simple sentences, some sentence variety would be nice! 
Why did I spend time writing this?

Posted by DukeTogo

I preferred Gravity Crash over it.  While both games are quite similar, the retro vibe of GC was much more appealing over the gee-whizz Jizz-lobbing of PJ:S, even though the latter had more physics shit going on.

Posted by Jeff
Posted by JeffGoldblum
Posted by buzz_clik
Moderator
Posted by cravins90

Ha it seems like Jeff hijacks all the big reviews, leaving Ryan to take the Saboteur. Stay strong, Ryan!

Posted by Bummey

I don't know.... I avoided the other Pixeljunk games, but if this was named Pixeljunk Oh God Stay Away From The Lava I definitely would have picked it up on  name alone.

Posted by Bummey
@cravins90 said:
" Ha it seems like Jeff hijacks all the big reviews, leaving Ryan to take the Saboteur. Stay strong, Ryan! "
Yeah, but they both sent Avatar over to Brad. Poor Brad.
Posted by Kohe321

Great review!

Posted by DBrim
@Bummey said:
" @cravins90 said:
" Ha it seems like Jeff hijacks all the big reviews, leaving Ryan to take the Saboteur. Stay strong, Ryan! "
Yeah, but they both sent Avatar over to Brad. Poor Brad. "
Yeah, but Jeff got Tony Hawk Ride.
Posted by Crono

I too really enjoyed this game a lot but felt that it was way too short.  I eagerly am anticipating the add-on; however, I hope it is much more in depth than what we got from the get go.
 
Excellent review. I agree with all of it.

Posted by Yummylee

Was expecting Brad to review this game since he played through the quick-look.
Posted by nismo

where does the HUD come from??

Posted by EVO
@erinfizz said:
" Might have to try this. Dual joystick shooters usually stress me out enough that I don't find them fun, but I do enjoy puzzles and nice art style. "
Despite what the name suggests, they placed far more emphasis on puzzles than shooting.
Posted by SteveV

I do agree that the game is too short. They nailed the gameplay but it felt like half a game. However I do not agree with this reviews little emphasis on the coop, the coop is pretty much the biggest deal about the game, and in my opinion pretty much changes the game drastically, stuff like you said hugging together with the antimagnetic suit, or something which you didn't mention, when one ship overheats, the other can grab him and pull him into a pool of water. The coop makes the game feel alot more engaging.

Posted by first2die

Any word on a 360 or PC release?

Edited by Pie
@Jeff said:

" @Pie:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma "

I dissapoint myself.
 
Sorry, it was late at night when I was reading this and I was having trouble proccessing anything.
I will learn to keep myself closed when its so late at night.
 
Reading it now, nice review Jeff (not that you need me to tell you)
Posted by DBrim
@nismo said:
" where does the HUD come from?? "
The wha?  If you're talking about the different UI at the bottom, that's because these screens are from an older build of the game.  
Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

Still have not gotten around to any of the PixelJunk games, another thing on my long list.
Posted by doctiloquus

Why am I not seeing anyone in the game press make the connection between Shooter and one of the most underrated titles on the NES: Solar Jetman? Shooter is unquestionably a direct descendant of that classic game.

Posted by Media_Master

Cool sense of art direction.