Wednesday 31 July 2013

PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate Review (PS Vita)

Here at Retro 101 we are long-time fans of just about everything that the Pixel Junk team has produced. They just seems to have a way of taking a genre that has been done to death and then adding something new to make it fresh and vibrant again. We’ve been campaigning for the PixelJunk games to be brought to the Vita for some time so we were absolutely delighted when this version of Monsters was announced.

What we have here is effectively the original game and the extra content added through Monsters Encore and the PSP version. The game also has both online and Ad hoc multiplayer modes, a few new touch screen interface options and a lovely higher resolution graphical style. So if you’re a fan you can stop reading this review right here, log into the PlayStation store and purchase it.  For those that want a bit more detail then read on.

For those new to the series this is a tower defence style game where your little Tikiman must run around the screen upgrading trees into different types of defensive structures.  Wave upon wave of monsters then pour into the level from various points and head towards the village hut (normally located in the middle of the stage).  Around the hut are a number of baby Tiki’s and once the monsters have made off with all of them you lose.

It’s a concept we have seen many times before but it’s hard to remember when it has been accomplished with so much style and flair. You start off with three basic towers which covers attacking land monsters, air monsters and one that does both. The towers all have different damage outputs, speed of fire and targeting radius. Once a monster enters the targeting radius the towers will fire on them automatically. Killing monsters provides gold to upgrade more trees and gems which are stored in the village hut and can be used to upgrade the strength of towers or unlock new types to use.

The extra towers do all sorts of weird and wonderful things. You can get ice towers to slow monsters down, mortars to cause massive damage, lasers to knock flying enemies down and electricity pylons to hit creatures with area effect attacks and the list goes on. It’s with these towers that the game begins to come into its own as you will need to know the strengths and weaknesses of them all in order to succeed. You can’t just lay out your defences and hope for the best here, you have to continually move around the field and change the type of towers to win the day.

PixelJunk Monsters can be a bone crushingly tough game, especially for new comers to the genre. It takes time to learn that you really should be selling certain towers at certain times and changing from anti-air to ground and back again for certain waves of attack. It’s the sort of game where you may be stuck on a stage for ages but then have a breakthrough and clear three or four in one go. You have to constantly think about what you’re doing and constantly keep an eye on what the next wave of marauding nasty’s will be.

One memorable level ended with a frantic scramble around the stage to clear all the anti-air guns as the final boss stomped on and proceeded to be able to almost walk straight to the babies without taking a hit. Stress like that is what you’re going to have to deal with to come out on top and it’ll happen all the time.

Away from the main game there are a host of other options and things to do. You can play Co-op in both Ad Hoc and online modes and this allows two Tiki men to run around to defend the village. There are also tons of challenge levels which require you to complete stages under certain conditions. You start with two of these unlocked with more to come after you have beaten them. The criteria is always different and can range from anything from only using a certain type of tower to making sure you don’t let monsters cross certain parts of the level. As if the game wasn’t difficult enough this will test even the best strategy fans out there.

We’ve established the game is hard, but it always fair and the funny thing is it doesn’t really seem to matter. The sense of achievement from completing a level will always have you coming back for just one more go. You’ll find yourself thinking about levels in your everyday life and coming up with strategies while you should be doing other things. Then you’ll return and try it out and maybe it’ll work and bring you onto the next challenge. 

Overall, this is the definitive version of an already excellent game. The core mechanics are strong and work wonderfully when added to the flair and charm of it all. The Vita is also a perfect partner for it and you’ll soon find this one of your most played downloads. There is very little reason not to recommend it to fans of genre and gamers looking for something a little different. The difficulty may be too much for some but it’s a great version of a great game and it should really be in your collection.

Overall 8/10

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