One of the more pleasant surprises to come out of the last generation of consoles was the emergence of Q-Games and the PixelJunk series. Throwback games at their core, they combined simple gameplay mechanics with charming graphics. A combination of PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Shooter 2, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate brings the series to the PlayStation 4 for the first time and we’re pleased to say that it’s a very impressive experience.
A 2D, multidirectional shooter, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate tasks players with piloting a subterranean vehicle through the depths of a cavernous underground lair. With only a blaster and a grappling hook, our intrepid hero must rescue a group of scientists and researchers who have somehow gotten themselves stuck down there. This won’t be an easy mission, though, as dangerous environmental hazards and various enemies threaten at every turn.
Players new to both the titles and the genre will be able to jump right into PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, as the controls are purposefully simplistic. Movement of the ship is dictated through the analog sticks, while the R1 and R2 buttons fire the ship’s blasters and the L1 and L2 buttons control the grappling hook. In addition to the title controlling easily, the controls are also extremely tight and accurate. Piloting the ship is a breeze and besides the occasional errant shot, aiming and attacking is also intuitive. While this seems like a hard thing to screw up, you would be surprised at how many titles struggle with this. Luckily for us, Q-Games has done just about a perfect job here.
While the Shooter subtitle may imply that PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate shares a similar gameplay experience to that of classic 2D shoot-em-ups such as R-Type or Gradius, exploration and puzzle solving are actually bigger pieces of the game here. Most of the puzzles in the game are built around using the elements of the environment such as streams of lava or waves of a mysterious, magnetized liquid. These puzzles can usually be solved by just calling upon your knowledge of basic science, i.e. that lava melts ice or that if you light gas on fire it explodes. Helping move things along even further are various upgrade stations positioned throughout stages that can give your ship access to powers such as the ability to shoot flames from your ship or to be able to repel the magnetized liquid automatically. These upgrades and puzzles help do a good job of providing a ton of variety to a genre that can easily become stale very quickly.
Manipulating the various elements you come across also plays a major role in being able to fully explore each environment in PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate. Since the ship probably takes the most damage from the scalding hot lava found in almost every area (or if you have the attachment that reverses things, streams of water are just as bad), finding a way to eliminate these hazards is crucial if you want to be able to save every scientist and find all of the hidden treasure. While being a big shot hero and saving all of the stranded innocents is the main goal here, the game also has a scoring system that rewards players for finding special scientists (who also help explain just what is actually going on in the game), locating secret chambers and snatching the diamonds strewn all over the place.
As an HD port of two PlayStation 3 titles, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, while not awful looking, is slightly lacking in the visual department. New developer Double Eleven did what they could with the two games, though, as the colorful graphics are eye-catching and the various liquids all slosh around in believable fashion. My qualms with the visuals of the game, though, come from the rather dull looking environments. The backgrounds are lifeless and even flying around in the main areas of the game can be a little boring at times due to long periods of little happening. I understand that this is a style choice more than anything, but I do wish there was a little bit more going on at times.
In addition to the main campaign, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate also features a few interesting multiplayer diversions. You and a friend can either team up to save all the scientists and find all the treasure in the main story mode or, in a more interesting twist, can face off against each other. In this mode, one player must rescue the various survivors in an area, while the other player takes the reigns of a hunter tasked with eliminating the other ship. The catch here, though, is that the hunter cannot see the other ship unless they are right in front of them. This gives the mode a more strategic take than you would expect from something in this genre and is a welcome respite from the main game.
It’s worth noting, though, that PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate does have some rather cheap and unfair moments at time. Not only is PixelJunk Shooter 2 hard in general, but little annoyances such as accidentally hitting civilians because they are off-screen or getting damaged by a small bit of lava that happens to be stuck on a surface add up to become major frustrations at times.
Both the original two PixelJunk Shooters were already solid PSN titles when they were first released, but by bringing them to the PlayStation 4 in one package, Double Eleven managed to improve upon things. The user interface got a much needed improvement, while the seamless transition from one title to the other is almost unnoticeable. These upgrades, combined with the already solid controls and colorful graphics, make PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate a collection that every PlayStation 4 owner should acquire.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate combines two great titles into one excellent package and is a must play for any PlayStation 4 owner.