Indie Quickie: PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A game of tower defense strategy, in which you assume the role of the Tikiman and transform the forest’s trees into cannons and ballistae in order to defend your vulnerable flock of Tiki-babies from hordes of icky monsters.

Who made it and where can you get it? By now you’ve probably enjoyed PixelJunk Monsters on a PlayStation system, originally created by Q-Games and first released on PS3 years ago. (PSP and Vita versions have also since been released.) If not, Double Eleven is proud to offer the independently published Ultimate edition on PC, Mac, and Linux, available now on Steam for $19.99.

How much did we play? I have cleared the tutorial and seven other stages on the regular difficulty setting, replaying a few to earn perfect Rainbow ratings for five of the levels. I have also dabbled with co-op and attempted (unsuccessfully) to best a couple of the Medal Challenge bonus levels. Over 2,000 monsters have been slain.

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? Gamepad functionality is supported if you have past experience with the PlayStation game and want the familiar feel of a console controller. However the game handles just fine without one. (More on that topic below.) The system requirements are also very accessible so you should be able to run the game without any issues, even on older hardware.

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Why should you play it?

    • Cute But Deadly: PixelJunk Monsters may look all cuddly and whimsical, like a young child dressed up in his or her first Halloween costume, but don’t be fooled—this game gets tough quick. The fundamentals are the same as any other tower defense game: Monsters with different attributes (some are incredibly fast, some fly, some are slow with high defense) crawl onto the screen toward the 20 Tiki-babies huddled up in your base hut, and it’s up to you to place the appropriate tower types in the appropriate tactical positions to keep the monsters from breaking through your defenses and snatching away your flock. You are eased into the fray through the tutorial and first couple stages, but after that the challenge begins to steadily ramp up stage by stage, even on the Casual difficulty setting. Maps go from having one easily identifiable monster spawning point to multiple entry paths on all sides. Monsters go from following predictable routes in manageable bunches to swarming the entire screen in erratic patterns. At certain points you will also be surprised by super-charged enemies that will move even faster or have a protective shield. You always need to be on your toes, unlocking new towers and upgrading existing ones, and looking ahead on the wave indicator bar so you’re ready to adjust your tower layout based on the type of monsters lurking ahead. Having direct control over the Tikiman also adds another subtle layer of strategy and challenge as you need to keep him moving back and forth across the map to manage turrets while carefully weaving in between the waves of critters, or else he’ll get hit and have his coin purse scattered about the map.

    • Mouse? Gamepad? Who Needs ‘Em? Now that I have pretty much retired my old-and-replaced-too-many-times-to-count Xbox 360, I keep my 360 controller plugged into my PC pretty much all the time. In a strange twist of fate, when I booted the game up the controller was unplugged so I decided to push on and play with the inputs natural to PC gaming. Able digits plucking away at the arrow keys to move Tikiman around and the A, S, D, and F keys to place turrets and confirm/cancel actions are all you need here, thanks in large part to a super-simple ring menu interface which makes cycling through tower types and management options a breeze. The control scheme is so intuitive and streamlined that even controlling two Tikimen by yourself on the same keyboard in the local co-op mode requires little effort.

    • Tikimen Who Dance Together, Win Together: PixelJunk Monsters is great as a single-player game, but it really shines in co-op (local and online). This is most evident in the game’s tower upgrade mechanic. Valuable jewels dropped from defeated monsters can be used to purchase instant upgrades, but these gems are also needed to unlock more powerful weapons for your turret arsenal, and thus must be spent wisely. Another way to boost a tower’s damage output and targeting radius, without blowing all your gems, is by standing the Tikiman over the tower so he can do his little tribal upgrade dance which gradually fills the tower’s progress bar towards the next rank. When two players team up and two Tikimen dance together over the same turret, the progress bar fills more rapidly. Of course, having two Tikimen roaming about the same map means that the two cooperating players also need to share the wealth when gold coins drop. If one player hogs all the coinage, the other player won’t be able to help much when it comes to buying additional towers. Thankfully, when playing online without voice chat, a clever chat system allows players to communicate via glyphs representing different actions you may want the other player to take. It’s like they thought of everything with this game!

Parting Thoughts: A lot has changed in the tower defense genre since PixelJunk Monsters first came around the block, and yet somehow the game is still as fun and fresh and charming as it was half a decade ago. I imagine some of you will take issue with such an “old” game selling for $20 on Steam, but it’s hard to argue the value when you step back and consider the volume of content provided and the quality and polish of the game’s design. Tower defense games simply don’t get any better than this.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!