I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that we’ve all played at least one 2D shooter at some point. I also think we can all agree that over the years there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress with the genre’s mechanics. Don’t get me wrong; there were a handful of games that truly managed to do something new (Ikaruga‘s polarity system and Einhander‘s emphasis on “weapon flipping” and 2.5D presentation are two good examples), it’s just that those types of games have been few and far between. So what about PixelJunk Shooter? Does it raise the bar and present a new experience? Or is it just another fun, albeit uninspired, blast-fest?
PixelJunk Shooter is a quirky, stylized shooter that plays like a puzzle game with a variety of liquids which will each react differently to one other and are governed by their own rules and physics. Feel free to take a stab at that answer.
M-Class Planet Apoxus Prime is an unexplored planet colonized by miners in a risky attempt to harvest its resources, and they’ve just sent out an S.O.S. As a member of the ERS Piñita Colada it’s your job to explore Apoxus Prime and rescue the lost miners. You’ll have to blast and think your way through three distinct worlds (five multi-part levels in each) in order to rescue them all and discover the full story behind what went wrong.
Little by little, PixelJunk Shooter introduces players to its various elements. First, you’ll be blasting and digging your way to a given level’s five strandees. You can spin your ship in order to “drill” through certain surfaces, which is much safer than shooting if stranded miners are nearby. Even if you lose all but one of them, as long as you rescue that last survivor the door to the next level will open and you can move on. Of course it’s much more satisfying (and a bit more challenging) to save them all. If your ship takes damage, its temperature gauge (serving as a life bar) will rise. Over time it will cool down and you can cool it off almost instantly by dunking your ship in water, but just about anything can take it out in two hits or less so it’s important to be careful. Once these basics are learned, you’ll then need to familiarize yourself with PixelJunk Shooter‘s various liquids.
These liquids are what really set PixelJunk Shooter apart from every other game in the genre; possibly from every other game on the market. Each one has its own uses and dangers, as well as their own system of physics. Water (harmless) moves pretty much as one would expect. Magma (dangerous) is a bit more dense, so it’s possible to shift it around with some well-placed gunfire. It can also create pressure if it’s hit with water in a confined space and if left encased in rock for too long it will eventually eat its way through and erupt. The mysterious magnetic liquid (also dangerous) moves much like magma until you get close, and it can be re-directed using magnetic switches. Poisonous gas (dangerous in large amounts) will always drift upwards, eventually escaping through openings or collecting until it fills entire sections of the cavern. Ice doesn’t really move, but it can spread through water very quickly and could potentially crush your ship as it flies through a freezing water-filled tunnel. Yes, I know, I know – “ice and gas aren’t liquids.”
While there is plenty of shooting in PixelJunk Shooter, it really feels like more of a puzzle game. In general, most enemies pose more of a threat to the miners than your ship. With a few exceptions the real danger lies in their chance to zap, grab or burn any stranded miners in the area. Factoring in the complex (yet intuitive) substance interactions, environmental puzzles and the various power-ups that allow your ship to fly through magma, spray water, etc., let’s just say the bulk of the levels aren’t exactly heavy on the action. Of course, all of that changes at the very end of each world when you face off against one of three massive bosses. It’s still necessary to look at these bosses as a kind of puzzle, since their weaknesses aren’t exactly broadcast, but they will also test your reflexes and offer up the game’s toughest challenges. It’s also worth mentioning that they’re all brilliantly designed (both visually and mechanically).
Of course, amidst all this praise I do have one major complaint; It ends too abruptly, leaving everything open for what I’d imagine to be several future installments (i.e. DLC). I don’t have anything against the idea of getting to play more PixelJunk Shooter in the future, I just wish there was maybe one more world to blast through before seeing the credits. Or it could just be that I had so much fun playing through the game’s fifteen levels the time just flew by.
So, does PixelJunk Shooter set a new standard for 2D shooters? Yes and no. It’s incredibly polished and brilliantly put together, but it’s more like an action-puzzle game than a typical “shmup.” Well then, is it fun but ultimately uninspired? Again, yes and no. Yes, it’s incredibly fun and addicting. You can use various liquids, as well as special power-ups that will completely rewrite the rules of said liquids, to solve a large number of puzzles throughout the game so no, there’s nothing uninspired about it. The important thing to understand is that PixelJunk Shooter is an excellent game. Semantics about what category it belongs in aside, it’s a fantastic, charming, clever and somewhat whimsical experience that everyone with a PS3 and an internet connection should play. Then, once the inevitable add-on DLC is released, they should all play that, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for another trip to Apoxus Prime. There are still miners down there who need my help.
Things We Liked: Incredibly detailed liquid physics. Lots of clever ways to get through the environments. Plenty of reasons to replay past levels (saving all the miners, collecting all the jewels, etc…) The Magma Suit!
Things We Disliked: Less of a focus on actual shooting, which may catch some players off guard. Only three worlds (and three bosses). Having to wait for more PixelJunk Shooter.
Target Audience: People who love “quirk.” Puzzle fans, shooter fans and PixelJunk fans. Anyone not shortsighted enough to “refuse to buy downloadable games.”