When you buy a PixelJunk game, you pretty much know what to expect. You’re not getting a triple-A title with high-end graphics and a compelling narrative. You’re getting a cartoony, unintimidating puzzler without too much complication.
PixelJunk Shooter sees you flying a spacecraft through a series of caverns, in order to save the scientists trapped inside. They’d been researching on this mysterious planet and gotten stranded, and are now trapped underground with some frightening creatures. Your mission is to grab them with the claw attached to your spaceship, while fending off cave-dwelling enemies who’d like to see you explode with your gun. All of the controls you’ll need are covered by your mouse and your WASD or arrow keys.
There are also environmental hazards - unsurprisingly, being touched by lava will make your spacecraft overheat and explode. You can cool down your ship by flying into water, however.
Getting hold of these wiley scientists isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. They’ve gotten themselves into all kinds of precarious positions, and you’ll have to use your brain to get them out. One might be stuck underneath a breakable object… which is covered in lava. In many instances you have to redirect hazardous liquids away from the scientists so you can pick them up without getting them killed. It’s safe to say I accidentally buried many a scientist in a pool of tar or lava along the way.
As the game goes on, puzzles become increasingly difficult and enemies increasingly tough. However the game also gives you new tools to play with - a gun that can shoot lava, or one that shoots water, or an ‘inverter’ that makes you immune to lava but vulnerable to water. These new toys freshen up the gameplay a bit - but frankly not enough.
The game is also broken up by boss fights, which incorporate things you’ve learned through playing on that level, although sometimes you’ll get three new tools and only get to use one in a boss fight.
PixelJunk Shooter’s highlight is the game’s physics. Pour lava over water, you get steam. Magnetised things redirect your bullets slightly. Liquid pours faster if you remove more obstacles. Almost all of the puzzles rely on you being able to predict what’s going to happen if you shoot here or fly there. It may sound fairly basic, but when you see it in action it’s quite impressive, and Shooter would be a great game to teach kids about physics without boring them silly.
Frustratingly, a ‘stage’ involves four or five different levels, each of which will take a few minutes to complete at most. That’s okay if you’re just powering on through to the next stage, but if you play three levels and then quit, when you come back you’re going to have to start from the beginning of the stage. That could mean 15 minutes of progress lost.
Another very minor issue I encountered was the clumsiness of the stage selector. It’s essentially a map of the caverns that shows you getting deeper and deeper underground on this planet, but if you’re near the end of the game it’s going to take you an annoyingly long time to navigate all the way down to the stage you need.
There are four different sections in the game, each with its own theme - there’s an ice world, for example, and a world full of a magnetised substance that resembles tar but probably isn’t. It’ll kill you, regardless.
PixelJunk Shooter’s problem is that despite the new tools and worlds you get to play with, the gameplay never really changes. You fly around, pick up the guys who are easy to grab, then work your way around the map shooting out walls and pouring lava on things. The puzzles ultimately all have similar solutions. It was very difficult to persevere after the second section of the game, not because it was too hard for me but because I had become disenchanted. Which sucks, because when I first booted up the game I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
On the plus side, PixelJunk shooter is inexpensive, and may be worth it to you anyway if you’re into indie games or enjoyed the closest comparison I can make, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. It was only released on November 12th and costs just $8.99 on Steam, so it’s a pretty good deal - especially if you pick it up at a discount before the Spring Steam Sale ends.
Playing right through will take you about five or five-and-a-half hours, so it’s not a long game - but you know what else is repetitive and takes less time than that? Call of Duty. Do a value-for-money comparison on that.