Thursday, August 7, 2008

PixelJunk Monsters Review (PSN)

Both Sony and Microsoft in the attempt to attract every possible gamer have done a great job in offering plenty of niche titles that you might not normally have played. For the most part, the biggest surprises have been those that were made available either on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service or Sony's PlayStation Network. Since both systems launches, we have been honoured at playing some titles such as Geometry Wars, Rez N+, Echochrome and Super Stardust HD Extreme just to name a few. In Sony's PSN, the PixelJunk series has also been one of the main players in the PSN.

PixelJunk Monsters is the second release by Q Games. The first game was PixelJunk Racers and recently, they released PixelJunk Eden. All three are very extremely different but all three are incredibly addictive with their game play and frustration. In PixelJunk Monsters, you play a 'hero' of sorts who is responsible to protect a village/home from waves upon waves of enemy monsters. The game is a strategy game, but rather than building units, your goal is to build towers of a number of different set-ups to stop the on-coming groups of monsters.

The game follows the same structure of PC based strategy games; you are placed on a map, must research and create your towers and hope for the best. At the beginning of each level, you are given a small amount of money which you can build your initial towers. From there, for every enemy you kill, you either will get money and in some situations, you will receive gems which will allow you to research better structures. Certain towers work well against specific enemies; some are strictly for air units, some for ground and then you have a couple that attack both. At the same time, while you might have a strong ground tower, it will be useless against fast moving enemies, so you really need to determine the best towers to build and where to place them on the map.

Since each level is different, it really does take strategy to figure out the best course of action. For the most part, the wave patterns are the same from level to level, but the layouts will force you to carefully place your towers and upgrade them properly. Like with other strategy games, your towers upgrade either by taking out enemies or if your character stands where the tower is and does his war-dance (the character does dance).

The level designs do get progressively more difficult as you progress through the game as do the strength of the waves of enemies. The first few waves will be easy to take care of, but once you get to the harder levels and stages, you will often end up losing because the strength in numbers of the enemies is just too great for your units to handle.

This is where the frustration sets in. Since the levels are relatively small, the path between where some enemies start to where your village is might only take a few seconds to reach. If you haven't upgraded your units or do not have a proper dispersion of towers, you will not last long. One saving grace is that once a specific enemy unit stops attacking (near the end of each stage), you can sell the units you have for them to create more powerful towers to stop the stages last wave, which is always a slow but extremely powerful monster.
Frustration will cause plenty of trail and error. Since each of the latter stages can take at least 30 minutes to complete, you will be really angry if your village dies when you've reached the last few waves.

The graphics and sound are typical PlayStation Network fare. The animation and art for the levels and characters are nice, but will not impress the average gamer. It is a unique style that works well for this type of game. The towers each are distinctively different, same with the enemies, so there won't be times when you cannot distinguish what you are looking at. As for the sound, it is the low-point of the game. It is extremely repetitive and annoying to the point that you will want to play this game either on mute, or wished there was a Custom Soundtrack option.

It is clear that PixelJunk Monsters is not for everyone but it is a game that should be at least tried. Thankfully at only 10 dollars, you are getting plenty of value in a PSN game. With 21 stages lasting anywhere from 10-40 minutes, you can accumulate a lot of playtime. There is also an expansion pack available that increases the amount of playable stages. You might be frustrated at times, but I strongly believe that you if you give it time and play it strategically, you will be satisfied with your purchase.

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