Having not played previous PixelJunkShooter games, I jumped into the sub-like vehicle and found myself pleasantly surprised by the ‘Ultimate’ remake that combines Q-games’ previous two in the franchise into one nice package.
You are tasked with piloting a subterranean space ship into unknown depths of an exotic world in order to rescue scientists that have been trapped on their exploration. You traverse the under-world in a 2D environment, blasting through walls, dodging enemies and snagging diamonds along the way. After collecting all the scientist (or sadly letting some perish) in each area, a door opens and you are on the way to the next stage. Simple game play ideas, but PixelJunk Shooter is as much about strategy as it is about twin-stick shooting.
The space ship is equipped with two weapons: a standard rocket and a homing missile. Go right ahead and hold down the trigger to have missiles lock on targets. However, be ready for those missiles to also lay waste to any scientists in their path. Worse still, the missiles can also over heat your ship resulting in death. This simple shooting mechanic gives Ultimate a certain edge when it comes to depth and level design as the 150 stages progress.
The ship’s heat gauge is triggered by damage, over use of homing missiles and flying too close to hot lava. Worry not space explorer, because you can also cool down your ship by getting away from the ‘heat’ of the moment, flying into water or even picking up a nuclear upgrade that doubles as a power source for unlimited homing missiles and a protective shield for one hit. Each level, you are constantly tested as to how close you can get your ship from overheating, while still traversing past magma or attacking enemies.
The water and fire mechanic is one of the first layers of the game you tackle. As you plunge deeper and deeper into the ground, not only are you confronted with a variety of enemies, but also elements such as smoke lead this game in whole new directions to be explored.
Exploration is aided by the multitude of suits that your space ship can acquire. A water suit to help spray past lava, a magma suit to help melt ice and pick up rocks or an inverted suit that changes your life saving water into a pool of death are but a few suits that help you not only get from level to level but add to the games appeal as a whole. You will constantly think about a level’s design and layout in order to complete all objectives, but with the addition of these suits your ideas are consistently tested from stage to stage.
Finally when it comes to boss fights, PixelJunk knows how to deliver on a nostalgia level. Fans that remember how you had to take down a boss with various degrees of levels will find this game totally worth it. As soon as you believe you have the boss on the ropes, a change in tactics is needed to combat the bosses to round of attacks. If saving scientists and mining gems does not keep you digging deeper and deeper into this game, the inevitable boss battles will leave you wanting more.
There are a lot more things that PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate does right. The music and sound are very techno and spot on for this type of game. The ability to cross-play and save between the PS4 and Vita will have you jumping back and forth without pause. Then there is online play, which is actually very rewarding and unique to save the least. Pitting players against each other to save scientists; having one play defense and the other offense. Though co-op play seems mingled with lag, the hope of future updates leaves a lot to be desired in the game play mode.
There are points were the game could have been more refined, such as the ‘Dig-Dug’ inspired levels, giving more attack options or not forcing the player to collect diamonds to progress through stages. Yet, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate explores a different territory in the twin-stick shooter genre. The game continually refreshes the gameplay mechanics, tasks the player to think about the level and urges you to go back and collect and explore for scientist and diamonds. Be it single player, online, or through co-op, Ultimate shoots for the stars and lands among them.