PixelJunk SideScroller Review
Game: PixelJunk SideScroller
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3 only
The PixelJunk series of games has gone from strength to strength, the pinnacle of which being released earlier this year in the form of PixelJunk Shooter 2. Spearheaded by Dylan Cuthbert, the pedigree of Q-Games can never be called into question, but being a team that never rests on their laurels, SideScroller sees Q-Games take on yet another new genre like Monsters, Racers, Eden and Shooter before it – this time the side scrolling shoot-em-up genre.
When you first load up PixelJunk SideScroller, you will immediately have a smile etched upon your face. The visuals are an absolute joy to behold – it feels as though you are playing inside the Tron universe with all the neon colours, but it all takes place inside a warped old-fashioned CRT style presentation which adds to the overall aesthetic and charm, making you feel as if you need to insert a coin to get started.
If you are familiar with previous PixelJunk titles, playing SideScroller will give you an odd feeling of nostalgia. The basic mechanics of SideScroller are very simple – you are a small ship in a 2D shoot-em-up and you will progress from left to right dodging and attacking enemies to complete each stage, with bosses thrown in for good measure and with every level feeling unique, hosting a different visual style to keep the gamer interested.
Just like a lot of other side scrolling shooters, you have multiple weapons, which work best when used in a tactical manner, and are all upgradeable by collecting power-ups throughout the time you are playing. The standard machine gun will be used a fair bit, and as you upgrade it, you will be firing from the front, back and all manner of angles. One of the other weapons, the bombs, are best used against enemies that stick to the walls, as they hit the top and bottom of the screen and roll along the scenery; the amount you fire is also upgraded as you collect power-ups. Rounding off the trio of weapons is the laser, which starts out as a slow firing slim laser shot going forwards, and ends up shooting at multiple angles and becomes devastating. The laser can also burn through ice paths, which means you can find secrets and alternative routes through sections. There is also a charge attack which is similar to the spin attack in the Shooter series and while it can get you out of trouble, it isn’t a weapon that you’ll take on every enemy with.
As mentioned, some of the enemies are right out of Shooter or Shooter 2, but far from feeling like a lazy decision, these enemies feel absolutely correct in SideScroller. Of course, with these enemies comes sound effects (the “danger” noise that the ship makes is also lifted from previous games) that are also from previous titles, which accompany a typically PixelJunk electronica soundtrack, full of life and energy, pushing you forward when needed and creating tension when a big bad boss is trying to end your life. The voice-over work included will make you smile too, as the robotic female voice announces that you have levelled up your machine gun, and so forth.
In SideScroller there have been no punches pulled when it comes to difficulty. Without a shield you can take two hits, and then you are dead, there are checkpoints, which are an absolute blessing, though they may anger the more hardcore fans of the genre. Restarting at a checkpoint you retain your upgraded weapon level (each are individually upgraded and you need to be using them at the time you collect a power-up to upgrade that specific weapon) but have lost a life, meaning you are closer to the dreaded “start the level again” moment. SideScroller isn’t really about trial and error though, it is about skill and patience. You will die a lot early on, because the game is difficult, but when you finish the level that has been troubling you so, you will feel tremendous elation and satisfaction.
To unlock the harder of the four difficulties you will have to first go through the game on the levels below them, so there’s no chance of you being frustrated by throwing yourself in at the deep end.You shouldn’t be ashamed if you drop down to the easiest level (casual) either, as it helps you to learn what you need to do, in order to compete on the higher levels.
On top of the regular challenge, as is the norm with the PixelJunk games, you will find collectables hidden throughout the levels (some are fiendishly difficult to find), as well as full leaderboards which can be broken down into individual levels if you so choose. You can also enjoy SideScroller in co-op too, which can reduce the difficulty on lower levels, but will still leave a fair amount of challenge on the higher levels. If the two gamers (it is local co-op only) aren’t of a similar skill level, the co-op can lead to frustration too. Sharing a set number of lives with a player who dies repeatedly can be very annoying, and the poor soul who keeps dying will have to wait to respawn before rejoining the action.
As with most shoot-em-ups, SideScroller isn’t particularly huge in terms of actual levels, indeed the longevity comes from the inherent score-attack nature of the genre. Each level is self-contained, in that you won’t carry power-ups from level to level which may be annoying to some. Combined with the leaderboards, if you have some like-minded friends you could be challenging each other for some time to come. If you aren’t interested in replaying levels over and over, then sadly there isn’t a huge amount of game here.
VERDICT: If you come into SideScroller expecting Shakespearean storytelling then you will be disappointed. SideScroller is all about the experience and, because of this, it won’t appeal to every gamer out there. If you are of a bygone era and today find yourself wishing there were more shoot-em-ups released, then you’d be mad not to indulge in this title. A lack of content and reasonably high difficulty may mean that modern gamers find the title lacking, but to everyone else this is a hugely polished, visually appealing return to form for the genre.