My God, what were they thinking?
My son and I have played through the Pixeljunk Shooter series about five times now, having found every single treasure in both games multiple times. When I heard that the next entry into this series would not be another Shooter, but an old school sidescroller, I was pretty disappointed. The bonus level in Shooter 2 wasn’t all that special, so I held off on buying Sidescroller until recently. I probably should skipped it altogether. There isn’t much nice that I can say about it. It is light on content, it’s not pretty, and it’s not nearly as fun as the Pixeljunk Shooter games. With the Pixeljunk Shooter series having been so successful and this being such a huge step backwards, I couldn’t stop asking myself – what in God’s name was Q-games thinking making this thing?
Where to begin, where to begin? Let’s start with the graphics. This game pretty much looks like garbage. I realize that it’s a small budget game, and that they are going for the “old school, arcade cabinet, retro” look. They still could have done a better job with the graphics though. The environments are repetitive and samey. The enemies don’t look impressive at all, from the lowest level scrubs to the big bosses. Just about the only thing that changes from level to level are the color of the backgrounds and your ships. I am one who thinks that 1980s graphics should be left in the past where they belong. I can’t believe what a huge step backwards the visuals are from the Pixeljunk Shooter games. It’s like they cut 90% of the budget for this game.
The bad graphics and lack of variety actually hurt the gameplay, because there is often so much happening on screen that you can’t even distinguish enemy projectiles from other objects. Fluids are made up of big square pixels, and when they spray, it can be next to impossible to see a little drop of deadly lava. This problem becomes especially irritating when you kill yourself by accidentally touching a tiny little square of lava resting on the ground that you did not notice. I lost track of the number of times that I got killed by something and I couldn’t even see what it was that killed me.
Q-games ruined the co-op for Sidescroller. In the Shooter series, if you got killed, you would respawn, as long as your buddy stayed alive. In this game, you have only two lives, which means that if you lose both of them, you have to sit and wait while your buddy completes the level (or gets the “Game Over” screen and you guys restart). I could understand this decision if it was part of a “hardcore” mode, but even on “Casual” mode, you can’t respawn indefinitely. Isn’t the purpose of a “casual” mode to be, like, casual? Isn’t the idea supposed to be that you can pick it up and play it with your girlfriend who doesn’t like games and still play it? “Casual” mode in Pixeljunk Sidescroller is basically broken. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the game is darn near impossible.
I could look past these problems if Pixeljunk Sidescroller offered other compelling elements. Something unique to bring to the table. It doesn’t. The Shooter series was so good in large part because of how you could use fluids to solve problems creatively. It was a great blend of cerebral problem solving and twitchy shooting. Sidescroller, on the other hand, is just twitchy shooting. It is competent at that, but not really special. You have three modes of fire – machine gun, bombs, and laser. You pick up power-ups like extra lives, shields, and weapon upgrades. The side scrolling occasionally stops in an arena where you face a handful of brutally hard enemies before you can continue. There are also four boss battles. The stages are really short (if you don’t die), and the boss battles are an entire stage. On the whole, I would say that this game has about a third of the content of Pixeljunk Shooter 1 or 2, without the pretty graphics or innovative gameplay.
At ten bucks, I think that this game probably costs about twice as much as it should. I can’t give it my recommendation, until it hits the virtual bargain bin. Pixeljunk Sidescroller is a disappointing step backwards for Q-Games. Hopefully, it won’t be a prolonged trend.