The Pixeljunk series, once a reliable staple of the Playstation 3, has now moved on to bigger and better things. It is hard to describe this series, because each game was totally different. The tying factors between games were more aesthetic in nature – namely, colorful 2D graphics and great music. Now, the series’s developer, Q Games, has taken a curious new direction with the Pixeljunk series. They have abandoned the Pixeljunk name and they have left the Sony platform. The game formerly known as Pixeljunk, Inc. is now Nom Nom Galaxy, and it is available on Steam early access, if you wish to preview it.
Nom Nom Galaxy looks like a very ambitious title that combines a couple of popular genres. The first one is tower defense – in Nom Nom Galaxy, you have a central base where you cook up soup, which you sell for money. Bad guys occasionally show up to attack your base, and you have to fight them off. To get rid of enemies, you start off the game with a basic (but sort of weak) punch attack. Later, as you research upgrades, you can acquire better weapons, or base defenses like patrol robots. The second genre at play in this game is the strategy/RPG mixture loosely characterized by games by Don't Starve. Each world in the game is open-ended and persistent. You can affect the world in all kinds of ways, by building structures and/or by digging through the terrain. There is a daily cycle, and at the end of the day the game counts the cans of soup that you have sold. You explore the environment and collect resources to make soup. Ingredients can be turned directly into soup, or they can be planted, and they even can be eaten to restore health. You have a health bar and an oxygen bar, and if you run out of either, you die and respawn back at your base.
Like Don’t Starve, Nom Nom Galaxy is loaded with experimentation and trial and error. The game encourages you to try find your own ingredient combinations, for example, to make different soups. Unlike Don’t Starve though, this game has two-player co-op, which means that one player can be out collecting resources while the other defends the base. This mode might be a huge asset to the game. In the short time that I was able to play this game co-op, my son and I discovered all kinds of little ways in which the game encourages teamwork.
Colorful, pixelated 2D graphics have always been a trademark of the Pixeljunk series, so it should not surprise you that Pixeljunk, Inc.Nom Nom Galaxy continues this tradition. It is a colorful game with an appealing, throwback graphical style. However, the visual fidelity here is a step backwards from previous games. This could be due to the fact that the game is tileset based and it has to accommodate so much flexibility. For example, you can collapse an entire section of a level by digging too much. There is some music present, but it also appears to be a work in progress. For example, there is no music accompanying the Q Games logo or the main menu screen.
You may be able to tell that this game shares its DNA with the Pixeljunk games, but it is still an abrupt departure from that series. Right off the bat, it is clear that Nom Nom Galaxy is significantly more complex and ambitious than Q Games’s previous efforts. It is, in fact, so complex that the game is downright overwhelming right away. The early build for this game has a tutorial, but it barely explains most of the goings on in the game. Tooltips are infrequent or not very helpful, and the game has an unconventional style to it that makes it difficult to intuitively understand what is happening. For instance, the game tells you that you have to make enough soup to crush your rivals, but it doesn’t tell you how much soup you actually have to make. Little quirks like having to launch every can of soup into space make the game that much harder to digest. Quite frankly, the game is a confusing mess at this point, with so many things to do and so many choices that even the most focused and patient gamer might be bewildered. It is hard to tell whether this is an intentional design choice for satisfying the ultra hardcore gamer, or whether it is just a consequence of the game being in the alpha stage.
This game is one that I have been looking forward to for a long time because of Q-Games’s track record. At this stage, it looks as if the game is shaping up nicely, but it is hard to say for sure. On one hand, I can’t find any obvious flaws in the game with how its features are implemented. It has been enjoyable so far. I love the concept of the game, and I can’t wait to see everything that it has to offer. Nom Nom Galaxy looks like the type of game that offers tons of replayability. On the other hand, I am too overwhelmed to fully evaluate it yet. This game could end up being too confusing and/or frustrating for a lot of people. I hope that Q Games can find a way to make the game more understandable without restricting its freedom or spoiling the sense of experimentation and discovery that it is trying to offer. These guys have a challenge on their hands.