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PixelJunk Shooter (PlayStation 3) artwork

PixelJunk Shooter (PlayStation 3) review

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"Shooter", or PixelJunk 1-4, looks like an arcade shooter. You control a small ship in a sliced two-dimensional view of a cave. In the cave, any sense of depth in the picture is added by hand-drawn multiplane animation, or intricately shaded borders on the cave-walls. Hitting the black edge of the screen occasionally tends to warp you to a new level (with a "wooosh" sound). And monsters you can fire at with your ship illogically pop into existence on the cave walls, in order to stop you from completing the level.

The game also has the required introduction, complete with eerie space-music, sliding sprites, and slowly scrolling text. Which here recounts the story of the ERS Pinita Colada, as it arrives at a space-installation broadcasting a distress-call.

Pinita then enters orbit and sends down a smaller ship (or two - the game has local same screen two-player) to look for survivors on the different four-stage levels. The left thumbstick moves the ship. The right stick points the ship in the direction you want to fire. Both sticks the same way will give you a boost - and other reasonably intuitive things, that the stranded workers and scientists occasionally will explain at you with urgent looking text-bubbles.

Of course, this is only for establishing the format. When you enter the first level, you are not racing against time, earning money, or shooting at endlessly respawning monsters. The actual game is about the fluid-physics and the interacting elements in the caves. Water runs downhill, and flow through the path of least resistance. If it hits lava, it boils away, or cools the lava until it becomes porous rock, which can be shot through. Meanwhile, your ship will near an overheat by being near lava, and by firing missiles. But cooled down again if dunked in water.

You have unlimited amounts of ships, though, so you can always try the level again if you crash. But if you accidentally kill too many people you are supposed to rescue, it is game over. So the challenge is not in surviving the monsters, but finding the right way to manipulate the elements, without accidentally burning the scientists and workers to crisp.

Meanwhile the eerie cave-dripping music track that changes in intensity depending on how much action happens on the screen (much like Riff: Everyday Shooter) - along with the occasional portentous story from a scientist you pick up - will help set the mood.

While the plot-twist towards the end comes in the shape of another and mysterious type of treatable liquid, rather than a boss-fight.

Pixeljunk Shooter is the fourth in a series of games that reimagine old 2d game concepts into a newer variants, aimed at children in all ages. In this sense, the Pixeljunk games are fairly characteristic, and not partiuclarly daring. But the seemingly restricted and recognizable format allows Q-games to insert more dynamic game-mechanics, and genius (if at times sheer psychedelic) presentation, that might not have been so easy to accept otherwise. Whether this works because of the retro-feel of the presentation, or because of brilliant reuse of timeless video-game concepts, that need no explanation -- well, I suppose it could be both.

[First stage gameplay video. Fluid physics demonstration]

Played through all the levels a few times. A single playthrough might take you 5-6 hours.


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Community review by fleinn (December 18, 2009)

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