June 8, 2011

E3 2011 – Hands-on PixelJunk SideScroller

Filed under: Features — Tags: , , , , — Mister Raroo @ 4:29 pm

Handson PixelJunk SideScroller
The PixelJunk Shooter games didn’t light my world on fire, to say the least. I thought they looked gorgeous and the concept was great, but I just didn’t find them to really be all that much fun. Getting through levels was more work than play, in my opinion.

But PixelJunk SideScroller? Ah, it might be love! I adore 2D shooters, and this is perhaps one of the best to come along in a quite awhile. If you grew up playing horizontal shooters, you know the drill. Pilot a craft left to right through horizontally scrolling stages and blast everything that moves. In many ways SideScroller feels like it was ripped right from the golden age of space shooters.

Even the game’s logo is clearly an homage to Gradius. Super cool.

And the retro love doesn’t end there. The game is designed to look as it were being displayed on an old CRT monitor, complete with washed out colors and scan lines. The screen also warps a little at the edges, which is a charming touch. The environments are a mix of vivid neon colors and minimalist vector graphics. It’s kind of like the lovechild of PixelJunk Shooter and Trajectile (Q Games’ cool rocket-firing puzzle game for DSiWare). The experience is only enhanced by the soundtrack, which is very akin to the spacey, beat-heavy tunes found in the Shooter games. It’s safe to say Q Games knocked another one out of the park in the audiovisual department and the end result is lovely.

Handson PixelJunk SideScroller
The demo I played featured two different levels and a boss battle. The first stage presents a take on the whole lava/water gameplay element from the Shooter games. That is, sometimes you’ll need to blast an opening in a wall to clear a path so that water can cool off lava blocking the way ahead. The second area threw a whole bunch of moving spikes into the mix, making timing your movement essential. Finally, the boss battle was like something straight out of Darius, with a massive fish enemy assaulting your humble craft with falling debris and curtains of fire.

One of my biggest complaints about the Shooter series is that your ship controls like it’s slipping around on ice. Not so in SideScroller. While the control is still a little looser than you would find in the likes of Cave’s games, it is much tighter than in Shooter, and it needs to be. At times you’ll face danmaku-levels of enemy projectiles, and being able to navigate them takes a steady hand.

Your ship is equipped with three different weapons, all of which can be cycled through at any time. Namely, you have lasers, missiles, and a machine gun at your disposal. Certain enemies drop power-ups that allow you to bolster your firepower. I mainly stuck with the machine gun as it was the quickest to level up into multi-directional fire, which is essential because in classic shooter fashion your ship can only face one direction even though enemies approach from all sides.

Beyond your weapons, you have the ability to put your ship into a spin, which draws in all the loot enemies drop. When you release your ship from its spinning status, it zooms out to attack nearby enemies, which is helpful in tricky situations. However, doing so can also put you into an even more difficult spot if you’re not careful, so it’s not wise to spin around haphazardly. I watched one player try to rely on the spin and it was Game Over before he knew it.

There were two difficulty levels available in the demo: Easy and Normal. I chose Normal, and the challenge level seemed just about right for someone like me who adores 2D shooters. I watched other players struggling on even the Easy setting, though, but perhaps they’re just crummy at shooters.

People who like Q Games’ other releases are probably already excited for PixelJunk SideScroller, but hopefully this game draws in new fans as well. It’s arguably the most accessible, straightforward game in the studio’s PixelJunk series, and I think it’s all the better for it. It’s definitely one of the best titles I’ve seen at E3, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the game’s stages when it is released later this year.

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