PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate PS4 Review
Before publishers got crazy with the idea of releasing remastered versions of some of their big games on current generation systems, such as titles like The Last of Us, DmC: Devil May Cry and Borderlands 2, Sony had already begun the concept by bringing some of their downloadable catalogue to the PS4 (some titles with minor changes offered cross buy functionality, so that existing owners of the game didn’t have to buy it again) to fill in the release window for their shiny black box. One title that got a bit more love in this movement was PixelJunk Shooter, a simple, quirky twin stick shooter that merged puzzle and physics elements to bring a rather fun, if short, experience.
If you have never heard of PixelJunk Shooter, then here is a little recap. Players control a small ship equipped with a stash of rockets to fend off enemies, while tasked to navigate inside the planet to rescue trapped miners submerged underground after a disaster, which often involves manipulating elements, like water and lava, to solve puzzles scattered in each stage. The team at Double Eleven were put in charge of updating the originally developed Q-Games title for PS4, and they’ve done that tremendously with a lot of effort.
The Ultimate title isn’t being used lightly here, as this is the ultimate version of the game, but also the ultimate compilation, as it includes all levels from both PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Shooter 2 rolled into one packaged that is flawlessly joint together (the sequel did pick up where the first game left off) and also begins with the spinning move, a ship ability that was added in the sequel. This makes PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate a very worthwhile pick up for a new player or for a person who only played one of the two games released on the PlayStation 3.
Fans might not get much of a new experience from this release, but the first thing existing players of the game will notice is the graphical fidelity that comes with the shiny crisp graphics. Ultimate’s art style has been given a tasty facelift, thanks to better particle effects, improved lighting and shaders, higher resolution assets and smooth edges that offer a very clear image for not just for main objects, for example, the ship and enemies, but the environment and every other object in the game. The colour has also been given richness, as it no longer looks like it suffers from desaturation, which gave the original a unique visual flair, but I always thought its world should have been popping alive, not dulled, as I felt this conflicted with the semi-cartoon-esque art style that the game has going for it.
Ultimate also runs a super smooth 60fps, meaning everything from the movement of the ship to the dynamic physics calculation with the various gases and liquids move, react and change in a lively and responsive manner. It might not have graphics that blow your mind, but they are pretty and distinctive in its own sweet way, with the art style offering a characteristic take on the dynamics of fluids.
Elements and fluids are the key foundation to PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate’s gameplay and are vital to keeping your ship alive. The ship doesn’t technically have a life bar or an ammo count, as everything the ship does, be it using the turbo to boost across caverns or shoot homing rockets by holding down the fire button, creates heat. If the temperature gauge fills up, then the ship will begin to overheat and its homing weaponry will be disabled. Hanging around doing nothing will slowly reduce the temperature, but the best option is to find water and use the blue liquid to quickly reduce the heat back to nothing. Being close to lava will automatically make the heat gauge increase as well, so you cannot stay close to the substance for long without suffering from an Airplane sweat problem.
Those are only the introductory tests for the first couple of elements. As you move further into the game’s 150 stages, you will soon have to use both lava and water as a unit to help get past some of the puzzles. Water cools down the lava and transforms it into a harden substance that no longer shimmers dangerous heat waves, but instead is a crumbling form of rock that can be blasted apart to access new areas. Gas comes soon after, which is slightly warm, causing the ship to slowly heat up, but this gas is also explosive, so any hot substance, such as lava, that touches it will cause an explosion and anything close to it to burn away. Ice can be melted by lava into water, or water can be turned into ice if touched by the stone cold element. PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate does a great job of offering mixtures of elements that work with each other. Even the ship’s bullets can get in on the action, as liquid elements can have their trajectory altered slightly by the force of the missile passing through it, which, as you can probably imagine, leads to some rather clever solutions when sludge, acid and even light is manipulated to solve problems blocking your way to saving the next trapped miner.
Transporting through the insides of the planet requires the inclusion of ship modifiers that will give the ship powers to shoot elements. An early one is the lava mod that allows the ship to fire lava or grab and tug lava that has being cooled to rock, but then you get a flip situation where you can fly through lava and now water becomes the enemy. These suits add extra dimensions to the puzzles and help bring depth to level design that gets you thinking, rather than having yourself play through stages on autopilot.
Lastly, after acquiring the minimum amount of jewels, which are hidden in each stage, the end zone for the area features a boss battle to give it that feeling of a gamey closure to the world. Boss battles can be quite clever, and are based on the old gaming style of learning the phases of the boss and its attack patterns that alter during its depletion of health. There are no checkpoints for boss fights, so you have to make it through to the end, which can be a little annoying at times, since you can often die from one hit at any point during the fight. One great thing about this game is that all of it can be done in cooperative play on a couch, and while the game doesn’t do anything to alter the inclusion of a second player, it still remains a lot of fun to play the game with someone. It also introduces some little fun banter between yourself and the friend when they accidentally shoot a miner and are left to see the poor dead body floating in the water. Your friend has just killed a innocent person and you can’t even return the body back to the family, as its lifeless soul is left to float in the water to remind you of your mishap.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is a great remastering of the PixelJunk Shooter series, offering everything those old games included, plus some nice spit and polish to wrap it up in a wonderful little package. No matter if you want to play by yourself or with a friend, there is a lot to like with PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate’s smartly designed environment puzzles and infusion of dynamic fluids that offer a refreshing experience on this take of a shooter meets puzzler.