PixelJunk Monsters, PSN Review – Gingerdivid
Space Invaders meets Dune 2
When you take a simple glance at Pixel-Junk monsters, with its Red Indian turtle protagonist, you’d be forgiven in assuming that this is nothing more than a shallow kid’s game. This was my perception, but after my first play-through, my skepticism fell away like an over-sized pair of trousers, leaving me feeling particularly embarrassed in my metaphorical boxer-shorts. To make matters worse, I wore these metaphorical boxer-shorts on my head, practically all the way through the game, as Pixel-Junk Monsters, is refreshingly, a very challenging game.
Pixel-Junk Monsters, belongs to the “Tower Defense” sub-genre, it’s set on a single screen and viewed from a fixed isometric viewpoint, a typically you’re tasked with controlling a nameless (and admittedly charming) little guy whose job is to defend a base from waves of differing enemies. To defend your frightened tribesmen, you build towers from trees, it all works rather intuitively, as you run your little man over to a tree of your choice, tap the X button, cycle through the weapon wheel, and select the one you feel is most appropriate. Having to control a little man amidst the mayhem makes the game far more involving, you’ll dash from one side to the other, often in between the lines of enemies desperately collecting coins and gems, it’s this element that gives Monsters an extra distinction in comparison to the other games in the genre. Initially you have the option to place basic arrow, anti air or cannon towers. To build these, you need to pay a sum of golden coins, which is predictably the currency of the game. You start off with some money to begin with, but to keep on top of things, you’ll need to keep the gems and cash rolling in.
The monsters you encounter are the ones that yield these coins and gems, they come in all shapes and sizes, form spiders to golden statues. The gems mentioned above are equally as important as coins, as they can be used to unlock more advanced towers. They can also upgrade your existing towers; however you don’t always have to sacrifice your gems to upgrade, as your little man can do a funky dance next to your units, which slowly upgrades them. The interactivity with the towers doesn’t end there, as you can tear down existing towers (whilst getting about 75% of your money back) and replace them with perhaps, a nice flashy fire tower. Each weapon has its own radius of fire (itself denoted via an oval outline on the screen), so you’ll have to pay close attention to the placement of these units. The gameplay, is ultimately trial and error based, with a pinch of spontaneity. You’ll find that you’ll need specific towers and timing to progress, but also, (during your first playthrough’s of a level) you’ll need to adapt accordingly for the horrors around the corner, which in turn, develops your overall strategy on your next attempt. Thankfully, the trial and error will rarely become frustration for the patient gamer, as the game is extremely addictive and charming. The visuals and the simplicity both have an equal hand in Pixel-Junk Monster’s devilishly addictive nature. The idea of having just one more go is consistently alluring, that, in essence, is the game’s greatest achievement.
Oh noes! Where’s my air defence?!
The depth comes from the constant balancing act of spending, upgrading, placement and research (research being the process of spending gems to access advanced towers). The advanced towers consist of, fire towers, which incinerate ground based enemies with its flamethrower, the Ice tower, which slows walking monsters with a icy spray of mist, the laser tower which fires a long laser with a “TAT”, the mortar tower, which is a bigger, better and a badder canon, additionally there is a Tesla tower, which catches ground enemies with its shoots of lightening and lastly a hive tower, which engulfs flying units in a shower of nasty flies. Unfortunately, only two of these towers are actually worthwhile, which is an awful shame, as everything else in the game is perfectly balanced, like the economy, the 20 different levels and your foes respective strengths and weaknesses.
At the end of every round, there are graphs and statistics with online leaderboards, although there’s no online play, there’s offline co-op, which is surprisingly fun. However, in co-op, the severity of the challenge decreases, but this could be a good thing for some. Perhaps online co-op would be hard though, as you probably wouldn’t be able to strategise as easy, because you wouldn’t have the ability to approach the TV and point “quickly, put the arrow tower on this corner!” to your exhausted friend (who’d probably put the tower a few trees away from where you asked, despite the effort). For the gamer who commonly strives for 110% completion, there are rainbows to gain for every stage, you only get one when you perform flawlessly (without losing a tribesmen). These are very difficult to obtain (passing a level is difficult enough), however, they are often mandatory for progression, so you’ll have to revise your old strategies, or perhaps go to Youtube.
The visuals are wonderfully crisp and vibrant, it all runs vividly in a 1080P resolution. The art$tyle and imagination is brilliant, as is the audio, which contributes to the rather sedate mood in the game. The music is fairly subtle, it fits in the background nicely, allowing you to concentrate on the game. It’s quite a refreshing departure from the grey, gritty and gory $tyle that many modern games share. It must be said though, the $tyle isn’t likely to appeal to everybody.
Overall, Monsters is a masterful balance of accessibility and depth, it’s addictive nature makes the genres inherent frustrations very bearable. The trial and error centric gameplay could act as a deterrent for many, as will is unique $tyle and music. However, for the low price, the value is tremendous and if you’re up for a challenge, then Pixel-Junk monsters is yet another PSN game worth checking out.