PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate combines Q-Games’ PSN titles PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Shooter 2 together into one fantastic package. Originally released on PS3, these two twin-stick shooters are given a graphical overhaul by Double Eleven and a sprucing up as they make their appearance on the PlayStation Vita.
The game sees you pilot a spaceship through the core of a planet, rescuing scientists and collecting treasure as you make your way through each of the various layers of the planet’s core. As you manoeuvre through the stages you will also need to be on the lookout for diamonds, as these are required to unlock the final ‘boss’ stage of each area.
Traversing the levels is a breeze, using the left analog stick to move and the right to aim you will need to watch out for the various enemies and elements that each level brings as these can bring an end to either yourself or the scientists you are trying to rescue. You have a blaster and homing missiles available via the right trigger, and a grappling hook on the left trigger to collect the diamond, scientists and any other pick-ups along the way.
Although the title involves the word ‘Shooter’, the game’s best feature has to be its puzzles. Each stage has five levels and each stage will have a puzzle for you to overcome to get through to the next stage. These puzzles involve various elements such as water, molten lava and gas and often require you to use one of the elements to counteract the other. For example, a simple puzzle at the start of the game will see a scientist trapped below a pool of molten lava. You cannot enter the lava as your ship will overheat. Above the cave is a waterfall that runs over a patch of rock that you can blow up. Shooting the rock will then allow for the water the fall onto the molten lava, cooling it down and forming rock – which you can then blast through to save the scientist.
During some of the later levels you will be able to don special suits for your spacecraft. These suits will allow you to manipulate the elements further, with suits that will allow you to fire water or lava, a suit that repels magnetic oil and one that chomps through bones in PixelJunk Shooter 2. Each puzzle that you face while wearing a suit feels like it has been designed specifically for that suit, meaning that you always have the tools needed to beat a level at your disposal.
The most important thing that you need to look out for is your ship’s temperature gauge. If this starts to overheat on your quest to save the scientists it could spell doom for you! Your ship will overheat when you take damage, if you fire your homing missiles or if you come into contact with some of the elements throughout the levels. Luckily, staying out of harm’s way or finding a pool of water will cool you down and will allow for you to carry on with the rescue mission. This mechanic is quite cleverly flipped on its head a little later into the game when you pick up the ‘Inverter Suit’. This suit reverses the roles of water and lava, allowing for you to travel through lava to areas that were previously out of reach.
Using a visual style similar to that found in PixelJunk Monsters HD, Pixel Junk Shooter Ultimate is a great looking 2D game that really shines on the PlayStation Vita. With vivid colours and great animations, the game is beautiful to look at. The audio matches the games graphical delight with a great soundtrack that plays quietly in the background, allowing the in-game sound effects to take centre stage and add to the industrious, yet cavernous feel of the game. If your spaceship becomes submerged in water or any other liquid, the sound around you becomes muffled as if you were underwater which I thought was a nice touch. The high presentation standards even leak out to the game’s menus and title screen, which are well designed and allow for seamless transition from the main menu to the game’s various hub worlds.
Alongside the main ‘Adventure Mode’ is ‘Online Battle’ which serves for PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate’s multiplayer mode. You can take on friends or random adversaries over PSN, with PixelJunk Shooter allowing you to battle against fellow Vita owners and even gamers playing PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate on their PS4. The multiplayer mode itself is a take on of Capture-the-Flag, tasking you with capturing the scientists dotted around the map and placing them in your zone before the time limit is up. Whilst you are doing this, the other player will be trying to find you and stop you in your tracks. If they are successful, they need to steal your ship icon to score a victory for themselves.
After this round is complete, you and your opponent will switch roles, with you defending the scientists whilst your opponent tries to capture them. Each player will get two goes at being the attacker and two as the defender with the points earned totalled up to decide the winner at the end of the rounds. This can make for some nail-biting battles as you try to hunt your opponent down and shoot them down before they can capture that last scientist. It can also make for some one-sided battles, as a player with greater skills and items can dominate the game and win the rounds with plenty of time remaining.
Luckily, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate’s matchmaking works really well and mostly matches you with similar skilled players. The competitive online mode has a league system where you will start at the bottom and work your way up as you rack up the wins. After a certain amount of wins you will advance to the next league (each league is a planet in our Solar System) where you can take on opponents of a similar rank. You can also purchase items and weapons using currency that you collect during your battles to upgrade your ship. This further increases your chances of progressing up the leagues in this mode. Although the multiplayer was fun at first, it did get a little repetitive at times, and a lot of the players that I played against would quit as soon as I started to beat them. It does add a nice distraction should you wish to take a break from the Single Player, but it is nothing groundbreaking and I can’t see it keeping me hooked for a long period of time.
All in all, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is a great game, combining two of PSN’s great Indie shooters into one complete package that is great value for money even if you did not get it free with PlayStation Plus when it launched. Mixing aspects from the twin-stick shooter genre with challenging puzzles that require a little thinking to solve, this game is one that I would highly recommend you spend some time playing. With Q-Games gorgeous trademark visual style and brilliant audio to boot, like the scientist that gets rescued by your spaceship, you will be hooked!