PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD PS Vita Review
The Vita has proven itself to be a powerful handheld with its cross-buy function, allowing fans with both a PS3 and a Vita to play the same game across both platforms without having to buy the game twice. Not only that, but it has also received ports of existing PS3 games and has shown – for the most part – that it has no problem running those titles. As we have seen with the recent release of the Jak and Daxter Collection, it looks like Sony is going back through its catalogue to give Vita owners more games to play. One of the games to be plucked from the PSP’s digital library and given the Vita HD makeover is PixelJunk Monsters, a title that first arrived on the PS3 way back in January 2008 before making its way to the PSP (with DLC included). So what’s new and improved in this Vita adaption of the rather fun tower defence game?
Players control Tikiman, a forest defender who must stop a horde of monsters from arriving at his front door to chow down on his 20 siblings. Tikiman has only one way to do this: by replacing the forest trees with towers so they help defend the wave of incoming troubles. This isn’t free though, so Tikiman must find coins hidden in the trees or pick up the gold that drops as loot from slayed enemies and use this to add more defence to his village. It’s the typical tower-defence gameplay that in this age every gamer knows about, but PixelJunk Monsters does it with charisma – meaning that every time you pick up the Vita and play a few rounds with Tikiman, you’re always in for some unadulterated fun.
There is some tactical gameplay involved with PixelJunk Monsters, as not only is gold used to buy towers, but you also get special gems that occasionally drop that are used to either upgrade existing towers or buy new towers from Tikiman’s hut (where his kids are). These unlockable towers are more powerful but require gems in the teen amounts to gain access to. Gems can also be used to quickly level-up a tower to make it better, which is a godsend because manually upgrading towers by making Tikiman stand on them and dance can take forever when towers are partially upgraded. There are four levels to upgrade: Starting towers are green, but can be upgraded through yellow, red, purple and black. Towers can also be sold, which becomes a valuable asset later down the line, as often you will want to replace towers with better ones to help defend against the strong enemies. It’s not demonstrated during the earlier stages, but once you’re on your way through the game’s stages, you’re going to need to start incorporating selling and replacing towers to get that perfect run and earn the wonderful rainbow award that unlocks additional levels.
Readers can check out our original review for the PS3 version of the game to get more of an idea about it. The rest of this review will focus solely on the Vita version and what Double Eleven has done to the port. First up, and probably the most important aspect, is that this version of PixelJunk Monsters doesn’t have any real new content, which is a bummer, as I would have loved to have seen a bonus island with some levels designed by Double Eleven. What you get in this package is the original game plus all the downloadable content it received. For newcomers, this means a worthy amount of content, as you have 47 levels to beat, plus 24 challenge levels which use the same levels as the main game but have specific tasks that must be met, such as finishing a level without upgrading a tower.
A nice feature in the Vita version is that Tum Tum Island is unlocked from the get-go. Tum Tum Island is a special piece of content that generates levels from five letters. It was originally unlocked by gaining every single Rainbow rank in the game, but players are now free to experiment at any point by putting in random letters or words and seeing what challenging (or easy) level is created from them. I believe with all the maps available and the various alternative orders the waves can come that there is a possibility of around 7 million combinations. That’s a lot of content. What makes it better is these generated levels make PixelJunk Monsters a perfect game to have on the go, as you can pick it up, do one of the Tum Tum Island levels, and then put it back down.
Regarding the Vita’s hardware, only the touch screen is used, but I personally preferred to use the sticks over the touch screen. It’s not that the touch screen controls don’t work, they do – Tikiman runs to the place you touch on the screen. But using the sticks is quicker and more precise to get around the map while dodging enemies that are walking towards their meal. Visuals are super crisp on the Vita screen, and the colours look like they want to burst out of the OLED screen like a packed Japanese train. The original soundtrack stays intact, sounding just as mystical and soothing as it ever did.
The last bit I want to talk about is the multiplayer, which can be done online or locally through Ad-Hoc. Jumping online requires you to join a room and then pick from the list of people in that room and see if they will accept your request to play with them. Every level is available in multiplayer along with Tum Tum Island, so you can have fun using randomly-generated levels with strangers or friends. Multiplayer gives each player their own resources, so it requires people to work together to construct a line of defence that works the best with the limited resources both players have.
PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD remains just as good as it ever was. For people who have never played the game, then you folks are in for a great time, with this being the best version released. Of course, if you have already played PixelJunk Monsters and its add-on content, then there isn’t really much here to entice you to come back, but I feel the release of PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is aimed for the audience that might have missed the title the first time around. All that matters in the end is that this game works flawlessly on the hardware and is an exceptional port of a great game that Vita owners get to play. While this won’t break the shackles of the Vita being a port machine, it does mean it just got that bit better at being a portable home console.