You know, it's an unforgiving industry. You need every break you can get. There are games critics out there – horrible, twisted vultures who delight in saying terrible, mean things just to get a cruel laugh at the expense of the hard-working, imaginative pioneers who actually make the games we all love.
So, with this in mind, why oh why would you create not just one, but a whole range of games called Pixeljunk? It sort of sounds like a gamer slang term for the slew of cheap, uninspired garbage that comes out each and every year in a cynical attempt to separate naïve gamers from their money...
Pixeljunk. It's apparently something of a movement over on the Playstation. There are a ton of these things – Pixeljunk this and Pixeljunk that – all simple indie titles that bring some throwaway fun to cleanse the palates of the hardcore in between AAA titles.
Of course, there is already a word for this on the PC. Indie! We've had a thriving indie scene since forever, and it's nice to see it spreading successfully onto other platforms. But Playstation indie games being ported to the PC? Well, it's an intriguing idea.
OK, it's nutshell time. Pixeljunk Shooter has marked philosophical similarities to Tiger Style's Waking Mars, as well as an unmistakeable influence from the 1980s classic Thrust. On top of that there's a delicate sprinkling of bullet hell – just a sprinkling, mind, which is mainly apparent during the boss battles. But here's the thing – Pixeljunk Shooter is one of only a select few games which has a name which is misleading enough to adversely affect you during play.
See, the thing is, it's not exactly a shooter. I mean, sure, you have a basic arsenal including a blaster and homing missiles, as well as a couple of additional weapons later on in the game, but in many cases these weapons are used for clearing mud out of the way. In fact, a much more accurate title might have been Pixeljunk: Mud Clearance. Although yeah, with branding already looking a little shaky because of the whole Pixeljunk thing, I suppose I can see why they didn't call it that.
The problem, you see, is if you just wail away on the blaster cannon, you can (and will) easily blast right off the visible screen into the distance and – inevitably – through the soft, yielding skulls of the very scientists you're supposed to be rescuing. Yes, slow and steady wins the race for the most part, and it's more a thinker than a shooter.
Here's the clever bit. As you zoom around in the underground caverns where the game takes place, looking for technicians to rescue, there are a number of environmental conditions that need to be observed, and... well, liquids which need shunting from one place to another. Say your way is blocked by a pool of magma, beneath which you can clearly see a patch of mud that you know your blasters could penetrate. Nearby there is a pool of water in a basin made of this same shootable mud. It's up to you to shoot the mud in such a way as to dump the water into the lava, combining the two to make more shootable mud, through which you can blast to get to the passage below. Now, obviously, dumping lava onto the heads of the scientists you're there to rescue is hilarious yet inadvisable. So sometimes you'll need to shoot your way thoughtfully through the mud in order to ensure you leave sufficient levees to shore up the lava.
Complex stuff for a game that calls itself a shooter, to be sure. But for the most part the pace of play is driven by the player, so you have enough time to think about what you're doing. Crashing into the scenery does no real damage most of the time, so you can experiment, explore, or just zoom wildly around from place to place without too much eye-rolling instadeath.
The soundtrack is a chilled-out Ninja Tune, Nightmares On Wax type-of-a-thing, which doesn't really fit the game particularly well but is unusual and nice to listen to. It feels sort of like the devs were listening to it while they were writing the game and just sort of thought 'this'll do as the soundtrack'.
The mouse-and-keyboard controls require steering the ship with the keys and shooting toward the mouse pointer, and it is this mechanic that makes me hesitate before saying that this would be a great mobile game. I guess you could steer by rotating the tablet and shoot with the touchscreen, I don't know. Everything else about Pixeljunk Shooter just screams 'play me on a tablet' to me.
So if you're looking for a traditional shooter, this is not really anywhere near what you want. Why in the name of Her Majesty they thought that the Playstation was a natural home for a game like this is quite beyond me. As a cheaply-priced indy PC game, requiring creative thought and patience, it makes a lot more sense. It certainly is pixelly, but it definitely isn't junk.