The Pixel Junk series has been around for a long time and I’ve honestly never played one. So, when I was tasked with doing a review for Pixel Junk Shooter Ultimate I was expecting a twin stick twitch shooter kind of similar to Geometry Wars. What I got instead was a sprawling adventure with all kinds of different areas to explore, abilities to use, and physics puzzles to solve. It’s a game that surprised me throughout my play through.
As mentioned I’ve never played either of the Pixel Junk Shooter games, which makes this ultimate collection perfect for me. This is a combination of the two games, but it’s much more than just slapping both games in one collection. The games are combined for a much longer game overall and while I have no experience with the original titles, apparently it also features various fixes of small little problems the original titles had.
The first thing you will notice is that despite the name, this game does not feature retro pixel style graphics. Instead it uses a stylized almost cel-shaded cartoony look. You will also notice numerous small effects that really add to the feel of the game. My favorite being the thrusters that come out from your ship as you change direction and jet around. Explosions are thematically colored as are the very well animated enemies. This game is a blast to look at.
The music in the game unfortunately is not as memorable as the visuals. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s just kind of there. Lots of ambient noises accompanied by stuff that sounded like rap. It was appropriate and inoffensive, but I am certainly not going to be rushing out to buy the soundtrack.
The strong visuals as mentioned above really bring the themes in this game to life. Stuff like Ice worlds, industrial complexes, and even the belly of a giant monster feel exactly as they should and offer appropriate thematic puzzle challenges.
The core of the game revolves around these puzzles and how they interact with the environment. They are mainly composed of the flow of liquid and all it’s forms. Water, manga, magnetic oil, stomach acid, etc. How it works is that spraying water on magma will cool the magma and form soft rock that you can burrow your way through, you interact with all the liquids in ways like this. You can get magnets to direct oil into containers and obviously magma is going to melt ice, and lastly stomach acid is going to corrode your ship.
These puzzles can get quite elaborate as an early example involves hitting a switch to release magma to melt ice, then getting an item that absorbs water and carrying water over to the magma and cooling it. They are fun and quite challenging but I found them to be very well balanced too, as you should never have to slam your head over the desk attempting to figure one out.
Increasing the variety of the puzzles is that certain levels feature ship powerups which help you manipulate these environments even more. You can get a ship that fires a magma hose for example but that comes with the added problem of not being able to touch water, and of course, you can damage yourself with the magma.
Some powerups I felt unfortunately killed the pacing of the game. The first one that comes to mind is the hungry ship that can chomp up bones when you are inside the giant worm. You can’t shoot when you are in the mode and you can’t attack enemies.
It invokes maneuvering around the enemies as you create paths for yourself. These segments themselves aren’t bad, but they are so different from everything else and can totally take away the twin stick movement of the ship that makes the game so much fun.
Speaking of that movement, you will need to master it as later on in the game you will be asked to move in winding small corridors and you will even be facing timed puzzles in which you need to move very fast. The good thing is that movement feels very natural in this game and once you get used to the twin sticks and how they work, it will be second nature.
The left stick basically controls your forward or backward momentum while the right stick controls your direction. You can also get a turbo boost by holding both sticks in the same direction. Also, once you master movement you will be running circles around more difficult enemies, picking them off with well placed missiles. Honestly the amount of control you have over your ship is probably the thing I liked most about this game.
The game has momentum and you won’t come to a complete stop when you let go of the button, and coming from this I felt like a top Formula One driver while cutting corners and boosting in some of the more cramped corridors.
The only major problem I found with movement is that the sticks on the Vita (the main platform I played Shooter on) aren’t quite as precise as I would like them to be, but they overall functioned very well. I imagine the game plays better on Playstation 4, however.
Combat is simple yet satisfying due to the movement. You mainly fire single missiles or stuff like a burst of magma if you have one of the games powerups. If you hold down the button you will fire off a flurry of homing missiles, but abusing this can cause your ship to overheat. I felt the homing missiles to be somewhat useless though and didn’t find myself using them too much.
You can also spin your ship to lunge at the enemy with a melee attack, but just like the homing missile they will overheat your ship. You can do a smaller spin to deflect enemy shots and if you time it correctly you can use this as your melee attack without overheating, but obviously, it isn’t as effective.
As you work through the worlds manipulating the environment with the liquids, the main goal of the game is to save fellow humans who were abandoned on this derelict planet after a catastrophic event. You have a grapple beam that comes out of your ship and this is used to grab the humans as well as grabbing stuff like gems, which are used to unlock areas and puzzle items like the aforementioned egg that absorbs water.
Saving all the people in an area is very important as the next room will not unlock until you save the required amount of people in the current area. They also serve as your lives. Death doesn’t work the way you would think it traditionally does in games. You can fail and blow your ship up 1,000 times and you will just restart the current room, the penalty for death in this fashion is very low.
What really matters is the deaths of the people you must save, and they are very fragile. They will die if they are touched by any damaging liquid, if enemies touch them, and if they take a fall of any distance. Obviously, your weapons will also kill them and very often they are placed in areas where you must combat enemies and a stray missile can easily find its way to a fellow human.
This is where that melee attack I talked about earlier really comes to use. From what I saw, the melee attack can’t damage your fellow humans so it’s best used in a crowded area so you don’t accidental shoot the very people you must save.
There are typically about 35 to 40 people in each area and while you don’t have to save every single one of them it is encouraged as you get gem bonuses for doing so. These bonuses not only help you unlock new areas but they also increase your overall score which makes you look that much more impressive on the global leaderboards this game features, if you are into that kind of thing (or even care of course).
At the end of each world you will run into a boss fights and these were one of the most impressive parts of the game for me. I almost felt like I was playing The Legend of Zelda with a space ship as each boss is a multiple form boss and they kind of functioned as giant puzzles that you had to figure out. I looked forward to each and every encounter and I was never let down.
The game also has online play, which I didn’t spend much time with since the single player was so robust. It involves saving people while another player tries to hunt them down. I only played a couple games, but it was a lot of fun and trying to outwit your friend in the race to survivors can produce endless hours of trash talk.
Overall this game really is the complete package and is very addicting due to it’s satisfying puzzles and tight controls. It really makes you appreciate the digital landscape as excellent titles like this would probably never see the light of day as physical releases.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is without question one of the very best games on Vita, especially considering the amount of content you get for the price and I really wish I had a Playstation 4 to see how that version plays. Now I need to get my Formula 1 spaceship ready, I’ve got some more corridors to boost around in.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate was reviewed using a code provided by Double Eleven. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.
Editor’s Note: I’ve played the game on Playstation 4, and it’s just as solid, if not even moreso pretty than its Vita counterpart. I’m not sure if this is just the result of the game being on a big screen, but it simply shines on the boob tube. Also, the Dualshock 4’s analog sticks definitely improved performance for me, so naturally the experience is even better on that platform!