Calling a game a shooter conjures up an array of assumptions about the features it’ll likely include. In the case of PixelJunk Shooter, though, any associations you might make based on the name are probably wrong. Maybe its title is misleading — you fire weapons and fly around in a 2D space, but it’s certainly not an Ikaruga-esque game of bullet hell . But if you can couch your expectations and just enjoy it for what it is, PixelJunk Shooter stands out as one of the more creative and entertaining downloadable games this year.
You’re a ship that shoots lasers, rescues scientists, and looks for gems… and that’s all you need to know to play PJS. Sure, a basic bit of backstory is thrown in, but the game is all about picking up and playing, not pondering the how or why. Each level pits you against a dangerous environment, forcing you to manage your ship’s temperature (health, essentially) and use the various elements you encounter to alter the stage in order to proceed. For instance, in an ice level, you might shoot out the dirt so that lava flows into the area and melts the ice, while in another level you might direct the flow of water so that it reacts with materials in the environment to form gas. It sounds a little daunting, but it really isn’t; each new variable is introduced in a progressive, intuitive way, and makes the levels feel more varied.
Picking your way through each level and figuring out how to best use the environment to your advantage is all well and fun, but the game is a surprisingly mediocre shooter. Fighting enemies is really just a roadblock to reaching the next environmental puzzle, though these foes occasionally do provide an extra bit of challenge when both they and the environment are working in sync to murder you. A few of the enemies are engaging, in the sense that they use elements like lava and ice to alter the world, but overall PixelJunk Shooter’s combat just isn’t all that interesting.
After playing PJS to completion — about three hours, altogether — I feel like I’ve completed half of an awesome puzzle game. After just three worlds (each world consisting of several levels, ala a Mario game) the game ends abruptly with a “to be continued” teaser, but the included stages provide just enough challenge that I’m left hankering for more of this deceptively named game. Calling it PixelJunk Environment Puzzler-Shooter probably would have been a marketing disaster, but I feel pretty good just calling it what it is: downright fun.
The Critics Agree
Everyone generally enjoyed Shooter’s two-player option.
“A simple, local two-player co-op mode is included which doesn’t change the game much, and doesn’t have the chaotically competitive edge of, say, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, lacking as it does independent score-tracking or friendly fire. But it does suit Shooter’s style and level design extremely well, so it’s more than welcome.” — Oli Welsh, EuroGamer
“Like in Q-Games’ past titles, you can play with two players cooperatively through the game (locally; online is only for leaderboards). The coolest part here is that if one ship overheats and begins to plummet, the other player can grapple them and keep them safe while they recharge. Other than that, it’s exactly the same as the single-player game (and even uses the same save), but it’s great fun to head into the caverns with a buddy and work together to save the miners.” — Chris Roper, IGN
The Critics Disagree
Some people were bothered by Shooter’s length more than others.
“Being a massive fan of the PixelJunk series I couldn’t help but wish there was a little more to Shooter. Sure, what there is is great fun, but the experience is over rather quickly and replaying the game is for purists only.” — Alex C, TheSixthAxis
“One curious thing about Shooter is that it’s surprisingly brief: The three “worlds” consist of only a handful of levels in each one, and not to mention that after the credits, you get an all-but-confirmed notice that there’s either a sequel or “Encore” episode on the way (perhaps ideally). Length is always an easy thing to harp on, but you do get plenty of satisfaction for what amounts to several hours of play, and that fits the PixelJunk series just fine.” — Ray Barnholt, 1UP
“If you ran through the game, getting to the end credits wouldn’t take incredibly long, though for a downloadable title it’s certainly within reason. But when you go back to collect everything, your playtime can double in total length, and it remains fun the whole time.” — Chris Roper, IGN