PixelJunk Shooter Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Dec 10, 2009

PixelJunk Shooter is an experimental liquid physics puzzle game disguised as a shooter and continued evidence of a talented and daring development studio. The execution here is not perfect, but its highs are high enough that its lows are easy to forget.

The Pros
  • Some of the most impressive water physics in a video game
  • Almost perfectly exploits an addiction to exploration
  • Unlike any other twin-stick shooter you've ever played
The Cons
  • Last chapter acutely highlights game's overall weaknesses
  • Co-op is a fun option, but difficult for serious play

I gave PixelJunk Monsters a shot, but it doesn't take long for a tower defense game to wear out its welcome. Failing that, I booted up PixelJunk Eden, but pleasing aesthetics aside, the hooks never sank in. My friends call me crazy for not digging the PixelJunk games. They can stop questioning my sanity now, however. With PixelJunk Shooter, Q-Games hit the sweet spot.

PixelJunk Shooter

What Is A PixelJunk Shooter, Anyway?

PixelJunk Shooter is an experimental liquid physics puzzle game disguised as a shooter.

On the surface, PixelJunk Shooter would appear to be the most conservative downloadable effort yet from indie darling Q-Games. Blink too quickly and it's possible to confuse the game with a high-quality Flash shooter. PixelJunk Shooter doesn't look very impressive in stills. There's not much detail to the environment, ships or enemies attached to the walls. But it's in motion where PixelJunk Shooter begins to shine, where it becomes clear how Q-Games leveraged the power of the PlayStation 3 to make their twin-stick puzzle shooter come alive.

You do shoot a great many things in the game. The title doesn’t lie about what you’re up to; however, it is deceptive. Most of your time in PixelJunk Shooter is spent aiming at destructible rocks in search of diamonds (necessary to open more areas and unlock precious trophies), carefully not aiming at the various cave dwellers you're trying to rescue (whom you need to actually finish a stage) and balancing between the two options to push environmental water and lava in favorable directions. The liquid is not scripted but entirely dependent on your precise interactions, leading to many moments of intense elation as you dash to save someone at the last second…and loud curses as a wave of lava takes an unfortunate bounce off the surface, covering your friend in a hot fire.

Those moments provoke happiness and joy at a wonderfully repetitive rate for a healthy portion of PixelJunk Shooter's missions. Each is happily remixed with the addition of ice during the second episode, though it can become unnecessarily complicated when played through the lens of the game's optional co-op mode. The game's demand for focused aiming becomes particularly tough to manage when two players are navigating the game's tight corridors simultaneously.

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But, Here's The Thing...

The spark doesn’t last from start to finish.

PixelJunk Shooter's caverns transform into rigid stacks of industrial steel in the third and final episode. Here, Q-Games trades exploratory curiosity with a hint of danger for a serious test of patience. Shooter skills are required to complete the first two episodes, especially if you want to collect a decent amount of treasure, but never frustratingly so. Even the bosses were mostly pushovers -- in a good way. A game doesn't have to be punishing to be entertaining and up until the third act, PixelJunk Shooter strikes a fantastic balance. But the game's last slate requires some lightning-fast movements and generates constant groans over environmental physics gone awry (in this case, exploding gas) instead of wonderment. And the last boss? Oh, boy.

It's also worth noting the game is rather short. It won't take you more than three -- maybe four -- hours in order to pick up the controller and reach the ending that teases a sequel or expansion.

PixelJunk Shooter

Don't Panic

Despite PixelJunk Shooter's less-than-satisfying final chapter, the rest of the game is an absolute delight. The scarily realistic fashion in which the game's water, lava and oil react to your slightest actions, especially poignant when the game introduces upgrades that fundamentally change the ship's attributes, proves endlessly fun. One upgrade places a magnetic force field around the ship, pushing all liquids out of your path and often directly into the face of your enemies.

PixelJunk Shooter is continued evidence of a talented and daring development studio. The execution here is not perfect, but its highs are high enough that its lows are easy to forget.