PixelJunk 4am Review
Game: PixelJunk 4am
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Avaliable on: Sony Entertainment Network only
The PS Move will be celebrating its two-year anniversary in September of this year. A decent amount of people spent their hard earned cash on the peripheral, but have been let down in so many ways. Other than the very odd glimpse here and there, the Move hasn’t been supported by software dedicated to the use of its glowing ball. Of course, there are also the titles that utilise the Move as a side feature: “…oh, and by the by, if you want, IF you want (’cause you don’t have to), you can use the Move instead of the Dual Shock”.
The PixelJunk series of games have gathered quite a good following on PSN (now SEN) with their always unique art style and varying degree of gameplay. Their latest, PixelJunk 4am, is a music creation tool that has the player creating some “banging choons” (did I say that right kids?). The stage was set for Q-Games and Sony Santa Monica Studios to get people to dust off their Moves and create sweet, sweet noise in the early morning. They almost achieved that. Almost.
In 4am, you are the DJ. Mixing tracks, creating loops and manipulating the resources that are given to you via the creative mind of Baiyon – the man that produced the music and samples that you use in the game. Your Move controller acts as your mixing desk: applying reverb, messing with the filter, bringing in loops, etc. You work with four basic tracks in each song; rhythm, bass, synth and drums.
There are some really good tutorials included to walk you through how to use the software because, in all honesty, you’ll need some lessons. It’s all well and good to pick up and start playing, but to get the most out of it, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of the tool presented to you. You’re DJ box is called the Virtual Audio Canvas. Think of it as a virtual box that surrounds your person. Each face button on the controller represents a track, and when you want to play a certain track you first, press one of the face buttons. This turns the glowing ball at the end of the Move the colour that is associated with that button (triangle = green for instance, which will also be the synth track). Then, you reach out to one of the corners in your virtual space while holding the T button, bring the Move back into the centre and let go. Hey presto, instant melodies. It’s simple to just bring in the different tracks, but the real skill is in creating your own loops over the programmed music.
Each track has four different one shots. One shots are sounded by darting your controller up, down, left, or right. These could be a hi-hat hit, a voice, anything basically. You can record your own loops by holding the trigger and trying to hit the hi hat in time with the built-in rhythm track. That’s the infuriating thing here, trying. The game does not recognise the precise moment when you go for a one shot, leading to a loop that is out of sync with the backing track. To get the one shot in 4/4 time, you have to hit them on the off beat, and vice versa if you want them on the off beat. Annoying to say the least.
When you are creating your sick beats, some of the visualisers are taken straight from Windows Media player c. 2008, therefore it makes it difficult to tell what tracks are playing on occasion. A hud would improve the experience greatly because even though the ball at the end of the controller glows the colour of the selected track, there’s nothing on screen to tell you which tracks are currently being played. It’s hard to define whether the synth track is playing when you are looking at a unicorn’s puke spraying across the screen and you are hearing many loops playing at the same time. The simpler the visualiser, the easier it is to tell which tracks are playing.
If you’re looking for inspiration, or just want to have music on in the background, you can use the Live Viewer. This feature allows you to watch and listen to other 4am players around the world, just like they can watch you. A nice addition to the package and it contains the only thing that could be considered a scoring system in the game, kudos. Kudos is given by waggling your controller at the PlayStation Eye. The performer is able to see the amount of people who have given Kudos and the amount of people watching by random updates on screen. I know that when I was playing and the number of people watching started to increase, there was a real buzz and a want to not screw up in a big fashion. As you progress through the title, you unlock more tracks and sets to play through to impress the masses. If you want to be social about things, you can set up your Facebook and Twitter accounts to send out a message when you’re fiddling with your imaginary faders.
The music you have on your PS3 can be played with the software too. You can choose which stock visualiser you watch while listening to your personal collection. You obviously can’t add filters to the tracks you have on your console, which make this facet of 4am a little bit pointless in a lot ways.
VERDICT: At the end of the day, PixelJunk 4am is a really good idea, however it falls down on a few essential parts. It would be nice to have more control over the music, and it would be even nicer if the tracks behaved in the way you wanted them to all the time. On occasion, you can really start to get a groove going and the toy becomes enjoyable. But, that’s what it is, a toy that is fun in timed bursts, but could’ve been so much more refined in its execution.