PixelJunk is are a superb series of vert different game experiences. Each plays and looks different, with the only similarities being that they are 2D, inventive, and incredibly stylish. PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is one of the labels most accessible titles, blending twin-stick shooter action with momentum and elemental based puzzles. Despite having first released more than five years ago, it is a blend that remains novel and fun.
It’s easy to pigeonhole PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate as a just another twin-stick shooter akin to Geometry Wars. And, in terms so its base controls, it is - but it is also much more. Yes, it is certainly a shooter, but you do not have to deal with the swarms of enemies you would normally experience from this genre – instead the focus is on puzzles created by fluid dynamics and elemental effects.
You have almost all the tools you need from the outset, with a gun, homing missiles, and a grappling hook. Left stick controls thrust while the right guides the direction your ship faces.
Don’t get too excited though, if you do not quickly learn judicious use of your shots you can quickly find yourself – or the scientists you are meant to be rescuing – dead. This is because stray bullets can be deadly due to their habit of punching holes in walls that unleash a torrent of water or lava upon anything beneath.
Thus defeating the few enemies that populate each stage places an emphasis on accuracy - and occasionally on working out how they can be used to solve the environmental puzzles - rather than on twitch reflexes.
Moving through the game, the levels change from one beautiful cell-shaded 2D environment to the next, bringing with them new puzzles and challenges. Most of these revolve around manipulating the various fluid or gaseous elements within the stage – from water to the poisonous fumes from magnetic goo.
The natural physics of the world make it easy to intuit the various interactions. For example, punching a hole through a wall to release lava results in it pouring down, but it finds water it will cool to a porous rock – that is until it boils off all the water of course.
Along with the multiple fluid effects, there are also many puzzles related to the environment that demand you combine accuracy, speed, and planning. These include the need to perfectly time reversing the polarity of your ship as you drag magnetic ooze around the levels.
Each environment is topped off with a boss battle. Again, these heavily feature elemental and puzzle elements – like the giant lava spitting spider - but at least they allow you to unload your weapons without fear of negative consequences.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is actually a double package of both PixelJunk Shooter 1 and 2. In some ways this is great – it’s a bigger package that gets over the issue that the original is quite short and easy. But it does make the hard shift in difficulty between the two games all the more abrupt, as 2 is significantly harder. Luckily, as the series has continued, it has expanded its multiplayer offerings to online – which helps a little.
The other thing Ultimate adds is a new art style, which adds additional visual effects over the classic pastel style. This can be switched to the original style too, so purists can also experience the game as originally intended across more than 150 stages.
Two for one
Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate's mix of puzzles, action, and beautiful environments found me with a constant smile on my face. It is worth the asking price just to experience the first four hours of puzzling fun that made up the original game – the second, less fun and more challenging game, is just an added bonus for masochists.