By Special Guest Writer Dan Lipscombe
Pixeljunk Shooter may just look like another twin stick shooter, but under the surface of simple controls lays a deviously intricate game involving puzzles, combat and secrets. As with any Pixeljunk game, Shooter is addictive and beautiful, carrying its own sense of style.
To divulge just how wonderful this game is, perhaps we need to get down to basics and explain how the game actually works. Taking control of your ship, the left stick moves the ship and the right stick rotates it, leaving a shoulder button for shooting and another for using your grappling hook. The mission is simple; explore caves and chasms to find a mining crew that has lost its way. But it doesn’t end there; the best feature is the fluid control.
Throughout the game you will have to watch for elemental changes, your ship after all is exploring the core of a planet, so expect plenty of lava and later on Ice and oil. Each of these affects your ship in different ways, but ultimately they do you damage. Lava will cause your ship to overheat and crash meaning if you see the heat meter rise, you’d best dip your ship in nearby water. In order to move through the levels you’re given upgrades now and then which allow you to turn the lava into rock, melt ice with lava, later on there’s even an upgrade that lets you dive into the molten rocks. Using this mechanic allows for some ingenious puzzles, moments of near disaster and at points frantic gameplay.
Shooter does still rely on regular layouts for twin stick adventures, there are plenty of enemies and although they are as imaginative as you would expect from Q, they are repeated often and by the end they’re the same bad guys in different skins, a real shame considering the thought that has gone into the bosses. At the end of each episode you will encounter a different boss, each one elaborate and well designed. The only downside to these bosses is their ability to kill you in just one hit, leading to frustration. In one encounter with a boss I’d managed to reduce his health to only a fraction when he killed me in one hit meaning taking on the fight again.
While on the subject of frustrations, many Pixeljunk fans new and old will be disappointed in the length of the game, with only three episodes each contained a handful of levels the game could be over very quickly. You do have the opportunity to grab a friend and play two player or look for hidden rooms and secrets but it will still only last so long, and certainly not as long as the developers past games.
Despite these minor flaws Shooter is a well accomplished game and it certainly pleases on an aesthetic level. With cartoon like visuals that have a cel shaded style Shooter is very easy on the eye, using this engine also means that the flow of water and lava or the crack of ice looks a treat and at times you may find yourself stopping to appreciate what they’ve achieved. Similar compliments can be levelled at the soundtrack too, with a wonderful mixture of subtle ambiance or pulsing trancelike tracks the overall presentation is worth the price alone.
Shooter relies on a subtlety which forces you to keep on your toes, while dodging the obvious like lava and water, you must watch for steam which /slowly/ heats your ship and in fact even your own weapon can cause you to overheat and explode, particularly if you hold the fire button and produce missiles rather than small projectiles. Shooter constantly keeps you thinking, if I zoom in and pick up that miner will I overheat from the lava next to him? If I blow that rock will the lava trickle the right way and avoid the miners and my exit? Always thinking and always careful of the physics.
Shooter isn’t all zooming there, pick that up, fly there, and avoid that. There’s plenty of exploration too, trying to find hidden areas that may contain treasure or special miners and of course if you miss any you can go back and try to find them. You can always, like other Q games, upload your score to worldwide leaderboards and see how you fair against everyone else. You can also play remotely on your PSP although after trying it, it does lack the same appeal as playing on the home console in Hi-Definition.
While Shooter doesn’t perhaps have the same flair as the other Pixeljunk games it does have undeniable charm. It may not last forever but it’s fun while it lasts, an unconventional ‘shooter’ that teases the mind and the collector inside you will have a field day with treasure to collect and items for PlayStation Home to unlock. A wonderful addition to the franchise and PSN, well done Q for another great game.