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PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD Review

PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is, at its core, an incredibly fundamental tower defense game. You have a point on the map that needs defending from things which plod along slowly on a pre-determined path, and you defend yourself with towers.

If you have played any tower defense game before, or even seen someone playing a tower defense game once, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Monsters. If you’re looking for a game that’s going to revolutionize the genre, you aren’t going to find it here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

They just went ahead and made the best damn tower defense game money can buy, and filled it to bursting with enough map and game modes to keep you busy for the foreseeable future. It’s also hard. It’s really fucking hard. You’ll have to forgive me because I’ve never played a PixelJunk game before. I have no idea what’s changed in this version of Monsters.

Now, the reason the PixelJunk games have flown under my radar is because I assumed that the PixelJunk games were these kinds of inherently disposable downloadable titles, that exist to make quick cash off the kind of people who would buy something like the Vita to play cellphone games.

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If PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is any indication of the quality of its predecessors then Pixel Junk games are nothing if not hardcore. In fact, this game’s core is made of diamonds. It’s the Ninja Gaiden of tower defense games, and I have done myself a disservice by ignoring it until now. To be fair, Monsters does nothing to try to convince you it is anything other than some kind of casual coffee break game.

It offers no apparent narrative, and the art style offers nothing particularly unique or memorable, and normally this would be a problem. It’s the thing that turned me off to the game in the first place, but this game is a bit like an elderly Kung-Fu master. It doesn’t have time to tell you a story or impress you with its good looks. Monsters is as old school as it gets.

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It only has time to kick your ass, and it will kick your ass. Whereas other games allow you to progress when you merely finish a level, this game only tolerates your imperfection to a point. After a few levels the game will demand you go back to the levels you previously completed and complete them again. This time you need to do it right, and not let a single enemy past your tower defense.

When you have learned how to beat the level properly then you earn a rainbow, and once you have enough rainbows then you have earned the privilege of continuing the game. You can go ahead and try playing the game on the “casual” difficulty if you get stuck, but know now that any rainbows earned on casual difficulty will have little rain clouds under them.

The rainbows still count and you’ll be allowed to continue on, but the game still wants you to know that it thinks you’re a pansy. Rain cloud rainbows are like participation trophies, everyone knows they don’t count, and no one really wants them. Completing levels on the regular difficulty also unlocks levels in challenge mode – which, as the name would imply, is a yet even more difficult mode. It asks you to complete levels under certain conditions, like not allowing you to purchase upgrades.

Rainbows are serious business. PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is an incredibly frustrating game, but it’s a good kind of frustrating. When I lose, I feel like it was my fault, and generally manage to learn from the mistake. It’s incredibly rewarding to overcome genuine challenge in a video game, and it’s something we haven’t had enough of lately.

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John Sabin