Reviewed: February 15, 2008
Released: January 29, 2008
Preparing for my review of this teeny-weenie Playstation Network game download has set me back almost a week in my reviews schedule. The reason being that PixelJunk Monsters is a slow burner of a game that starts off rather slow and tedious, and over time becomes one of the most addictive and challenging “casual” games on the Playstation Network.
First things first, for any readers who gave PixelJunk Racers a try last fall, Monsters has absolutely nothing in common with Racers other than the PixelJunk name. Whereas Racers featured a top-down view of high powered modern sports cars, Monsters assumes a renaissance fantasy setting in which a turtle-like character is tasked with protecting a group of helpless villagers from waves of attackers by building a series of defense towers from the surrounding trees.
Building a tower is as simple as walking up to a tree and selecting the appropriate defense type among the different specialized ballistics and cannons. Each defense tower costs a certain amount of coins, which are collected from fallen enemies and awarded at the end of each successful wave. As the towers slowly degrade, they can either be demolished for coins (obviously less than their original cost) or upgraded either by paying outright, or by having the turtle character dance on them. Yes, I did say dance on them…c’mon, it’s a casual game, eh?
Certain towers are better for ground attacks, others for air attacks, and each group has a variety of weapon strength and firing rates. While not all weapons types are readily available at the onset, they can be upgraded using gems collected from the battlefield.
The first few training levels are a bit misleading in their simplicity, and will leave many gamers feeling a bit disillusioned about the game. But once the game ups the challenge, few gamers will be able to put the controller down as they try to achieve perfect rounds with no lost villagers.
Each level consists of a half-dozen rounds finished off with a very challenging boss character – so challenging in fact, that the boss can easily undo twenty minutes of gameplay in a single swipe, forcing a gamer to restart the level from the beginning. Thankfully, each attack round and boss fights follow the same patterns, allowing the gamer to develop a solid defense strategy by the second or third go-around.
Graphically, PixelJunk Monsters leans towards the low-fi end of the spectrum, with sprite based characters, flat textures, rubber-stamped set pieces. But while it might seem that most gamers would be turned off because every tree looks the same, every enemy looks the same, and every villager looks the same, PixelJunk Monsters pulls it off with a cute South Park like ambiance.
Other than the slightly stark visual style, there are no real graphical problems to speak of with regard to clipping or slowdown even with a dozen or more enemies attacking simultaneously.
PixelJunk Monsters features a unique sounding background score that is a mix of old-timey renaissance music (mandolins, dulcimers, etc.) with newer electronic beats. However, given the fact that the music loops incessantly during gameplay, it doesn’t take long for it to wear out its welcome. This is a common problem with casual games, so it does not come as a surprise in the least, but we would have rather seen an option to play custom soundtracks rather than be forced to listen to the canned sounds of the game.
There are very few sound effects to speak of other than a few pops, beeps, and rumbles here and there. Again, we don’t tend to expect a lot from these casual download games, and the effects get the job done – so we won’t complain too much.
There is a heck of a lot of gameplay packed in this measly little download, and most gamers are going to be very happy with their Playstation Network purchase. The game packs hours of game time, and that’s not considering all of the retries required to meet the games various challenges.
But I would like to stress that PixelJunk Monsters’ gameplay is focused towards a very niche audience, and some games will be turned off by the low-action high-intensity gameplay, so I suggest trying the downloadable demo first.
It should so be noted that PixelJunk Monsters supports remote play via the PSP, allowing gamers to take Monsters on the road with them and continue on from where they left off. This is always a welcome addition to any PS3 title, and further adds to the game’s value when you can play it in more than one setting.
PixelJunk Monsters is a surprisingly addictive and enjoyable game that starts off rather slow, and then quickly sucks the gamer in with its high-intensity tower defense gameplay. While PixelJunk Monsters is not the first game to use this time-honored gameplay genre, it does a wonderful job of translating it to the home console and at an affordable price.