Thunderbolt logo

PixelJunk Shooter

The mission has failed. Deep below the surface of Apoxus Prime something has gone terribly wrong. An S.O.S. has been received but no-one knows exactly what has happened to the mining colony. As a pilot aboard the responding ERS Pinita Colada, it’s your duty to rescue the mining crew, and maybe while you’re at it, dig up exactly what went wrong.

Building upon Q Games’ pedigree of bending traditional genres in new and unique directions, PixelJunk Shooter is a retro infused twin-stick shooter that isn’t about shooting. Yes there is shooting to be done and a ton of different critters just waiting to get blasted, but it’s all about the puzzles. While you’re zipping through the subterranean caverns you’ll be on the hunt for stranded crewmen, some might be easily rescued with a single use of your grappling hook while others might take a little more thought to unearth.

screenshot

Survivors can be fenced in by one of Shooter’s numerous elements or substances including magma, rock and ice. Each of which react in unique manners when interacting with one another: magma melts ice, water cools lava into rock and so on. Knowing when and where to trigger these reactions is necessary to not only saving your beleaguered colleagues but essential to your overall progress. Shooter will rarely tell you explicitly what to do, preferring to lay forth the tools necessary and let you experiment. Given that you’ll be playing with some especially volatile materials you’ll have to learn to exercise some caution, otherwise the creatures that fill Apoxus Prime will be the least of the worries for your potential rescuees.

You have to protect the mine workers. Whether it’s rescuing them from environmental deaths, enemy projectiles or your own itchy trigger finger, they’re essential to your own survival, let five of them die and it’s game over. Fortunately along the way you can erase your fallen comrades by collecting coins and 1-Ups, meaning it’s unlikely you’ll ever see a fifth and final death. Overall Shooter is a much more forgiving experience then either Eden or Monsters, even your ship itself can be destroyed an infinite amount of times so long as you keep the miners alive.

screenshot

When your ship is defeated you’ll respawn at the beginning of the current area, which means you’ll have to redo everything from that specific screen all over again. Obviously you don’t want that to happen, so when your ship begins to take damage and heat up you’ll want to take a swim thus reversing the over-heating and cool down your ship. In addition to enemy fire, magma and gases will cause your ship’s temperature to climb so being aware of the closest water supply, whether it be a lake or a slow drip from a stalactite, both could be the difference between a cool down and careening explosively into a wall.

What keeps Shooter interesting throughout its three acts are the constantly evolving environments. As soon as you’ve fully grasped the interactions between a given pair of elements a new substance or power-up is introduced. Some of which create only modest alterations to what you’ve already learned, while some literally invert your entire approach. Miraculously each and every puzzle makes sense and although it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel stumped, the puzzles never feel too obvious. Much like the bosses found at the end of each act, each requires a bit of observation and thought but shouldn’t pose too much of a conundrum.

The relative ease of level progression and the difficulty in actually incurring a game over are really the only knocks against PixelJunk Shooter. Coupling that with its relatively short overall length and your trip to Apoxus Prime’s most inner core might seem like a cake walk. Even if you somehow do find yourself having some trouble completing a specific stage, other stages are almost always available to be played in case you’re stuck on another. Given the opportunity to explore and experiment in a different level you might be able to make the connections necessary to solve whatever did stump you in the previous.

screenshot

If you still can’t seem to find your way on your own the entire campaign can be played with a friend via local co-op. Having a friend to help scour the levels for treasure is a truly invaluable asset, plus it doesn’t hurt to have a scapegoat for those inadvertent miner casualties. Perhaps the most ingenious feature of the co-op mode is the ability to grappling hook one another’s ships, specifically useful when your teammate has overheated and lost control of his/her ship. If you can grab them before they crash you can tow them to the closest body of water for a quick dip, saving you both the trouble of waiting for a respawn and potentially losing your current progress.

PixelJunk Shooter combines the best aspects of old school shooters with its own unique brand of environmental puzzles to create a shooting experience unlike any other. It somehow strikes the amazing balance of promoting thought before action while still urging players to experiment. PixelJunk Shooter is a must have title and it slots in nicely with Super Stardust HD and Everyday Shooter as one of the premier shooters available on PlayStation Network.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

Gentle persuasion

Think you can do better? Write for us.