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PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe

PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe is a game forever destined to put a smile on your face. Whether it’s the title screen that changes appearance depending on what time you play, or the beautifully drawn scenery that populate each level, its subtleties are nothing but charming. While it can be frustratingly difficult, with a lot of irritating trial and error to be endured, it’s easy to forget all that when the visuals are so beautiful, the music so soothing, and the gameplay so enjoyable. Making the transition from PSN so perfectly you’d be forgiven for thinking the game was originally made for PSP, PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe is bursting with content and wholly irresistible.

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PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe combines the original PSN classic and its expansion pack Encore, as well as including another new island of levels, a trophy-like medal room and online multiplayer. It’s a complete cluster bomb of content, and will keep you occupied throughout the year, provided you don’t grow tired of the addictive tower-defence gameplay.

The rules of play are painfully simple. You control a tribal warrior named ‘TikiMan’, who must protect his tribe from waves of monsters. He’s totally useless in physical combat – waltz into a monster and he’ll cower and forfeit all his coins – which is where his elite tower building skills come in to play. You start the level with a set amount of coins to start building towers in preparation for the first wave. Once you successfully defeat a monster they will drop coins, letting you build more towers, and letting you kill even more monsters. It’s a simple but addictive cycle enhanced by some small hugely important gameplay elements.

On occasion a monster will drop a gem, and these can be used to upgrade your towers. By standing over a tower you can bring up an intuitive wheel menu which asks whether you want to upgrade in exchange for a gem. Depending on the tower you could upgrade its reload time, its range of fire or its power. Instead of upgrading however, you could choose to save up your gems for a more powerful tower such as one that blasts a constant blaze of fire to torch your enemies, or a couple that collectively act as a trap that damages any monster that passes through. At first it’s easy to forget about the latter option and just keep upgrading your four primary towers (arrows, cannons, anti-air and ice), but as you progress through the game new enemy types emerge, and these almost require the purchase of certain new towers. Towers can also be upgraded by simply standing TikiMan over them, as he dances to increase their status bar.

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The gameplay mechanic is entirely flawless in that it is rarely anything but a lot of fun. It trips up with regards to difficulty, however. Even on the lowest setting (casual), past the first few easy levels of each island, it is hard to beat levels without losing any of your twenty tribe folk because you are unable to predict further than two waves in advance. This can become incredibly annoying when you’ve been building towers specifically for ground monsters and then a bunch of flying foes appear. Likewise if a certain monster hasn’t appeared throughout the session and then they chooses to show up when you can’t prepare enough to successfully extinguish their presence in time. Constant replays of levels and memorisation of waves is generally the only way to beat levels with a perfect score (that is, not letting any monsters get to your tribe), which is a shame.

This then has an adverse effect on unlocking certain parts of each island, as to unlock new pathways you must get a set amount of rainbows – the reward given when you get a perfect level score – and these are hard to come by after the first stages. It’s unfortunate because you want to see everything the game has to offer yet because you’re not willing to pour hours into improving your skills or memorising wave patterns you get stopped in your tracks.

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Ignoring the negative elements of the game, PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe is utterly fantastic. The variety in monsters and level design means every challenge feels completely new and exciting, and you’ll work into the night to try and discover new towers and new ways of beating the dastardly monsters. If you aren’t taken by the central concept then you can at least appreciate the exquisite visual style and serene chimes of the soundtrack. Trees look like edible candy floss of the best kind, the monsters all contain an abundance of character, and the joyfully charismatic moves of TikiMan are both funny and lovable. Q-Games have succeeded where many handheld games fail, too, by creating a soundtrack full of looping compositions that surprisingly don’t grate or tire, excluding the odd couple. It’s the perfect accompaniment to such a tranquil gaming experience.

New for Deluxe is a medal room, and this is a place of twenty-four challenges. You must first unlock the challenge before you can attempt it, which gives incentive to play through the main single player experience (not that you’d need much). Most of the challenges contain tremendously inspired requirements. Personal favourites include ‘clear the specified stage while having only one tower on the screen at a time’ and ‘drop 100 coins into the water and clear the specified stage’. They all feel tough but beatable, and the sense of achievement after successful completion is huge. Rewards include the standard prize of concept art and a bgm listening room, but a particularly fetching PixelJunk theme and wallpaper is certainly a nice surprise.

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Online is a major plus, too, and luckily PixelJunk has a following that means you will often be able to find like-minded people to play with. The lobby system is solid and friendly, and interaction in-game is done through symbols, which is both cute and relevant, considering the two TikiMen probably can’t speak English. Unfortunately the online isn’t tied in with the main game, so many may question why they should devote their time to it as opposed to the main single player mode. This generation tells us that gamers need a big reason to play parts of a game, so it’s a shame people may pass over the online portion because there is no real sense of reward to be had. Regardless, it’s a decent and worthy addition to the Monsters franchise.

And that’s what it boils down to – its worth. If you’re an insanely dedicated PixelJunk Monsters fan then this game is a no brainer, but if you’re happy with what the PSN versions offer you then it’s probably wise not to invest further. If you’ve never played any of the Monsters games then this is undoubtedly the definitive version. PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe has charisma, content, clarity and a cracking heart. It’s the girl next door, and for that, it’s priceless.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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