Q-Games has this line of games hitting the PlayStation Network Store that trade under the name PixelJunk. So far there are two titles, PixelJunk Racers and PixelJunk Monsters.
Racers is a sort of a slot car racing game, sort of not. You only control how fast the car goes and which lane you drive in. Rather than simply race against other similarly handling cars, the game is divided up into different challenges. Sometimes you have to drive as close as possible to the car in front of you without hitting it. That gives you boost and you use that to finish the race under a specific time limit. In another race, you might have to simply complete a set number of laps in a certain amount of time.
Ultimately, it’s a lot less rewarding than you think it should be. I loved slot car tracks when I was a kid, and still love playing with them now as an adult. PixelJunk Racers isn’t really like those tracks at all and that ruined my expectations for the game. It’s alright for what it is, but what it is isn’t what I wanted given the descriptions I had seen of how it plays. Fortunately I only got the demo for that one and it didn’t cost me anything to find out it wasn’t my thing.
PixelJunk Monsters on the other hand is a superb riff on the Tower Defense genre that so many people have discovered for the first time in 2007. Instead of simply pointing and clicking where you want to place your towers, you have a little turtle man that has to be moved onto trees for placement. He can dance to upgrade towers and has to collect the coins that dead monsters drop. There are also gems that can be used for upgrades or to buy new types of towers. There’s a lot of risk in grabbing coins and gems, since one touch with a baddie sends some of your coins spewing out everywhere. The rewards can be the difference between winning and losing though, so you’ve got to get in there and snag as much of the coinage and gems as you can.
Games like these are one of the best benefits of online enabled consoles. Between these original titles on PSN and Xbox Live, and the very awesome Virtual Console on the Wii, I’ve found myself enjoying games in genres I had all but forgotten. They’re priced reasonably, but also give more instantaneous satisfaction since they’re more narrowly focused on great gameplay instead of stories and drama. Games create their own drama in the play. I don’t need stories to do that most of the time.
To answer the question in the title of this post, neither of these games are pixel junk at all. Racers seems to promise something it doesn’t deliver on, but it’s still a middling game. Monsters is a tough, smart, puzzle and action game that makes the tower defense genre work really nicely on a console with gamepad controls. It’s notable that the programmer is the same Dylan Cuthbert who played a large role in the development of Star Fox on the Super Nintendo. I’m looking forward to more games in this line from Q-Games and I hope they’re all as good as Monsters.