PixelJunk Monsters, if youâ€™re not familiar with it, is a tower defense (TD) game, in which you must strategically place fixed-position units of various types (the â€śtowersâ€ť synonymous with the genre) in an attempt to rebuff attacks from increasingly tough waves of enemies (known as â€ścreepsâ€ť by TD aficionados.)
Even if youâ€™re not familiar with the title, you may have guessed from its name that this is not the first time weâ€™ve seen it; PixelJunk Monsters was originally released on the PS3 back in 2007 before making its way to the PSP in 2009; this year, it heads not only to the Vita but to the PC (Windows & Linux) and Mac as well.
Monsters sticks fairly close to the basic TD ruleset, with one major difference: in addition to placing towers, you also take direct control of an on-screen character. This character must run to various locations on the map at different times for different reasons, giving you something extra to think about while the waves of creeps are attacking.
The towers you can place are fairly typical for the genre, including those that can only attack air-based monsters, as well as those that can only attack ground-based targets, and some weaker ones that can target both types. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses is important as, once you advance to the later levels, it becomes common to have to replace towers with different types and the margin of error (in which you can get away with a sub-optimal mix of tower types) becomes smaller and smaller.
Your focus during a wave is constantly torn between the activities of the creeps (and the progress theyâ€™re making through your tower setup) and things your character can engage in. Youâ€™ll need to run him to the place you want to build a tower, for example, or carefully dodge between enemies (touching them is a bad idea) to collect the combination of coins and gems they drop. Alternatively, standing in place on top of an existing tower causes your little chap to dance, which helps that tower level up - making it more effective against the creeps but basically immobilizing you while you do it. Decisions, decisionsâ€¦
Speaking of decisions, the gems you collect also give you options as to how you play, and clever use of them will often be the difference between success and failure on any given map. Youâ€™ll need them (and a lot of them) to unlock the more powerful towers, however you can also use them to upgrade existing towers instantaneously - choosing when to do each of these options is always of critical import, and the exact strategy as to when to do each is always fluid, forcing you to think on your feet. Itâ€™s a nice balance.
The PlayStation Vita version plays largely the same as the PSP version (which I played a LOT of, back in the day), although it definitely looks crisper with assets that are designed for the Vitaâ€™s resolution. Animation is still pretty basic, however, so the visual upgrade - while nice - is slight.
From a gameplay point of view, the things that irked me about the original still irk me here. Having to run around and collect coins and gems is not to my taste, although Iâ€™ll stop short of suggesting that itâ€™s actually a bad idea; itâ€™s just not what I look for in the genre. The game also sports a fairly oblique camera angle, making it difficult at times to determine the range of your towers / where their range intersects with the path of the creeps.
Furthermore, aside from giving you the heads-up on what enemies are coming next, information is a little on the light side: you often, for example, donâ€™t know where the enemies are going to come from, and the exact path (which becomes impossible to guess on later levels) is never revealed. As a result, later levels will almost always require you to attempt them multiple times and remember what happens so you can plan for it in advance - the strategic equivalent of platform gamingâ€™s â€śleap of faithâ€ť, perhaps, which is unfortunate.
That said, itâ€™s still a great fun, well balanced, and extremely charming tower defence game. If youâ€™re new to the genre, this is a great place to jump in, and if youâ€™re a fan thereâ€™s plenty here to keep you interested too. Some new levels would have been nice (thereâ€™s no new content on offer, unfortunately) but the 40+ that are here certainly represent a solid investment and will take some time to conquer, especially if youâ€™re a perfectionist.