Andrew: Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is a twin-stick shooter from Japanese developer Q-Games. Ultimate is a combination of the PS3 classics Pixeljunk Shooter and Pixeljunk Shooter 2, with the online multiplayer component still in place from Pixeljunk Shooter 2. Part of what makes this particular twin-stick shooter unique is the environmental elements that affect your little ship as you navigate the levels – varying from water to lava to bodily fluids excreted from a giant slug.
I’ve always been a fan of the Pixeljunk games, so I was interested to see how the developers handled the move from the PS3 to the Vita and PS4 . The Vita is a machine that doesn’t get enough love from developers or gamers, so it’s nice to see a set of games like Pixeljunk Shooter come to the console – it’s perfect for twin-stick shooters, and I would have to say that Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is a must-have for Vita owners. There are some slight graphical differences between the Vita and PS4 (the PS4 looks noticeably better than the Vita), but the difference doesn’t hamper gameplay. What system did you play this on, Dave?
Dave: Well, I’m totally new to the series so, unlike you, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was nothing at all like the descriptions I’d heard; however, I had a blast playing it and think they did a great job. I played mostly on my Vita, although I did upload my save to play some multiplayer with my son on the PlayStation 4. I was surprised to see a significant jump in graphical quality on the larger console. Whilst maintaining the simplistic style, the addition of smaller details – such as the moving parts that can be seen on the ship, or the dust clouds that appear when you bump into dirt – gave the game a very “polished” feel. Was there a significant graphical or performance upgrade between the original versions and this re-release?
Andrew: I would certainly say there is. I found that the manoeuvring of the ship was a lot easier with this upgrade, which also helped navigation in some of the later, more frustrating levels. I went back and played a short round of Pixeljunk Shooter 2 to see what the difference was, and while it’s not as big a difference graphically as, for example, the recent Halo upgrades for the X-Box One, it still does look significantly better on the PS4.
If you came to the Pixeljunk Shooter games on the PS3 and really enjoyed the zippy movement and bright ship visuals employed in the first game, you might have found the terribly restrictive upgrade that’s almost immediately applied to your ship in the second game frustrating, and this could turn you off the sequel. With Ultimate, the flow from 1 to 2 feels natural and doesn’t hamper the gameplay that much. In fact, I found the sections inside the parasite’s body quite enjoyable, even though they do make controlling your little ship quite difficult.
How did you find the ship movement and boss fights in the second half?
Dave: To answer that properly, I guess we’d best explain that PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is broken down into six areas; each with its own unique environmental puzzles. You are equipped with “suits” to deal with these puzzles — a lava-spurting suit if you’re on an ice level or an anti-magnetic suit to navigate metallic sludge, for example. In the first area I found ship movement to be speedy and responsive and the levels clearly structured, leaving me with just the goal of figuring out the tricks. I didn’t often feel time pressured, which worked well as it made for a relaxing experience.
Level four threw this to the wind as, like you mentioned, the game introduces a suit that restricts your movement to up, down, left, and right. It made for an interesting puzzle, but really broke the flow of the game and meant that death often resulted in a long trawl through a slower level to get back to where you were. The fifth level felt like a return to form whilst the final level introduced long levels and easy death again. I loved PixelJunk Shooter as a quick, fun game, so these changes in the latter levels felt jarring and kind of annoying to me.
Andrew: It certainly does feel like they were trying to go too far to introduce ‘something new’ for the sequel. That said, the different elements that you can use to defend yourself or traverse through the levels are varied enough and make for some interesting navigation. On the surface, Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is a nice and easy twin-stick shooter that can be completed in about seven or eight hours, but for the completionist – like myself – searching for scientists and diamonds that are hidden in the levels adds an element of discovery and frustration.
Sometimes I would find myself accidentally killing an off-screen scientist by accident. Whether this was because I got too trigger happy at times, or because I just didn’t aim properly, it still made for a frustrating level reset – especially when I’d nearly completed the level and had killed the last scientist simply because I couldn’t see him. Once you have collected all the scientists in a level, the exit will open up, usually sprouting a bunch more enemies to kill on your way out. It is worthwhile seeking out the hidden scientists, as when you have found them all it unlocks a ‘secret’ side-scrolling level, which brought back thoughts of “The Land of the Livid Dead” in Rayman Origins.
Did you seek out the collectibles here?
Dave: Oh, Hell yes. That little progress indicator on the level select screen, coupled with the ease of locating all the collectibles (not to mention the unlimited lives) meant I was sucked in almost immediately. Plus, there are quite a few trophies for it, which was nice too. Actually, I was quite impressed with the trophy spread in this title, as it felt very even and fair. None of the “find hidden secrets that are nearly impossible without a guide” stuff that The Swapper had, or Lego game-style grinding. They were all straight forward and rewarded you for completing and exploring parts of the game.
I never really had your “scientific murder” problem, except for the last level, wherein you had to melt ice with lava in order to collect them. Unlike previous levels they weren’t positioned in safe spots, so you had to be extra careful when extracting them as they were super easy to kill. I didn’t have any issues with shooting scientists off-screen though, so maybe I’m just better at this game than you are.
Care for a round of multiplayer to test out this theory? It’s lots of fun. Actually, in a vein similar to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the developers have taken the core concept of the game and made multiplayer unique and fun, as opposed to just using the mechanics and slapping on a deathmatch mode. The game is split into four rounds, in which you’re either carrying scientists back to your base or trying to kill the other player. Each round is timed, but there are some “quick win” features that afford clever players an option for strategy. Did you play much multiplayer? How did you find it?
Andrew: Maybe you are better at this game than I am — in those melting ice with lava levels, for example, I did accidentally commit suicide quite a bit. That wasn’t the fault of the game at all, just my inability to direct lava in the correct direction.
Edit (Dave) : After completing this review Andrew and I played this multiplayer round. Click here to see the results… spoiler alert; he kills himself with lava :S
I did give the multiplayer a go, even though the online multiplayer is dead. I managed to play against myself using my Vita and PS4 and surprisingly, I won. I also lost as well, which was less of a surprise. Nonetheless, the modes were enjoyable and the ease of cross-platform play was good. I expect it would make for a good local multiplayer game between two players. Sure, the modes aren’t that deep, but they are fun, short, timed battles. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of another local multiplayer game I enjoyed a lot – Towerfall Ascension, which has nice, fast-paced battles.
Overall, Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate is a great game and I’m glad that it has made the move to portable as well as PS4. Given that this is my second round playing through the Pixeljunk Shooter games, I would say that the replayability is quite high. I’m not holding my breath for a third Pixeljunk Shooter, but I do appreciate the evolution of the Pixeljunk games to Pixeljunk Sidescroller; but that’s a review for a different time. The trophies are easy to attain and it’s not a difficult platinum to achieve either. 8 out of 10 for me.
Dave: Pretty much the same for me. It’s a great, enjoyable game that I’d be happy paying around $20 AUD for. I paid nothing of course, as I’m a PlayStation Plus subscriber, but that’s beside the point. It has loads of variety to break the monotony and boss battles that are clever and challenging. It’s not overly long and the online community is dead, so I’d say there’s not a heap of replay. Throw in the few levels that I felt were tedious rather than challenging and it falls in the spectrum of “very good” for me. Definitely worth a play, but the negatives prevent it from being awesome. A solid 7 from me.