The Five: PixelJunk Shooter
The Skinny: Dylan Cuthbert's Q-Games, the Pixar of independent developers, is set to crank the hit machine once more with PixelJunk Shooter. The latest in the PixelJunk line of beautiful, high-definition 2-D games will send the player into a treacherous system of underground caverns to save a bunch of workers who got stuck down there when something went terribly wrong. Who are these hapless souls? Why were they down there in the first place? Why did the situation go all pear-shaped? We don't know yet. Here's what we do know.
1. It's not bullet hell. Despite the nod to genre in the game's name, this is not a traditional scrolling shooter. While there are missile launchers and laser beams and little turrets that fire a barrage of projectiles at you, the focus is on navigating through the puzzles of the underground landscape. So don't worry; even if you always hated Gradius et al., you'll be fine here.
2. They could have called it Wet, but that name was already taken. There's always something sloshing around in the caverns of Shooter, whether it's water, crude oil or red-hot magma. The various types of goo are the most interesting "enemies" in the game. You use your spaceship to manipulate the liquid. At worst, you shoot your way through a geyser simply to survive. At best, you play subterranean engineer and manipulate the flow to clear a new path for yourself.
3. Dylan Cuthbert is probably a great dancer. Because his games know how to move. The PixelJunk games are united by a fluid yet tight kinetic feel that's becoming a trademark. Anyone who played Eden knows that the precise, breezy movement of that game felt wonderful, even if it did take a little while to get the controls into your fingers. Shooter fine-tunes that formula. Q-Games' physics algorithms are like Coke's secret formula. I hope Cuthbert has them locked in a vault somewhere.
4. Sometimes the whole is only the sum of its parts. Shooter's two-player mode doesn't add much to the game, at least judging by the level I played through at Tokyo Game Show. As is often the case with same-screen multiplayer, there are problems when the players get too far apart and run into the edges of the screen. Along the same lines, it's easy for one player to get trapped and killed if the other moves ahead too quickly. It's still fun as long as you're not expecting brilliance.
5. Xbox diehards need not apply. No surprises here, either: PixelJunk Shooter will be a PlayStation 3 exclusive. I suppose single-platform users could protest, but c'mon, it's the PS3. They have so little. Allow them this one victory. (Cue angry PS3 trolls in 3, 2…)
The Crispy Forecast: You don't bet against a streak, and Q-Games is on a hot one. The only red flag with PixelJunk Shooter was that the name made it sound like a genre standard. In practice, it's anything but.
This preview was based on a hands-on demo of the game at TGS 2009.