The PlayStation Network is home to some of the most creative and experimental games of this console generation, and Q-Games' PixelJunk series leads that pack. Beginning with "PixelJunk Racers" in 2007, the Japan-based developer, has re-imagined genres, simplified gameplay, and created a unique series of experiences that are unlike so many currently on the market. Their latest entry, "PixelJunk SideScroller" takes shoot-em-up gameplay and blends it with the series' signature retro-style graphics to create another enjoyable entry in the franchise.
Pulling inspiration from sidescrolling, shoot-em-up games that have been around since the early 1980s, "PixelJunk SideScroller" takes the genre back to its roots. The graphics stay away from any kind of fancy fare, and are inspired by classic vector based games like "Asteroids," letting the vintage visuals dictate its unique look and feel. The gameplay is exactly as you would expect: move from left to right, shooting anything that moves, and avoid anything that might damage your ship. "SideScroller" offers three types of upgradable weapons; laser, wall, and machine gun, each of which can be used strategically throughout the levels. Additionally, if things get a little too challenging, you can give the game a go with one of your friends in co-op mode.
A Different Shooter
"PixelJunk SideScroller" is a game that obviously has many inspirations, but, for fans of the franchise, one title will sit atop that list; "PixelJunk Shooter." Based on a bonus stage from the earlier PixelJunk game, "SideScroller" pulls a handful of gameplay mechanics, as well as the ship design from "Shooter," which may help connect some of the dots between the games. While it wasn't at all necessary, especially since some of the "PixelJunk" games have little to no connection to each other, the callouts should make fans feel right at home.
Hard, Without Being Too Hard
Shoot-em-ups typically have a reputation for being earth-shatteringly difficult, but "SideScroller" manages to find the perfect balance between bullet hell and bullet heaven. There are segments of the game that will no doubt offer quite a bit of challenge for most players, but after some continues and obligatory repetition, there isn't any portion of the game that is insurmountable.
Over Before It Begins
If a great game always leaves you wanting more, then "SideScroller" is one of the best. With only four sets of levels and one final area, this game proves to be a bit on the short side, as it's easily completed on a lazy afternoon. While that holds true for most of the shmup genre, as it is a direct descendent of quarter-eating arcade machines, "SideScroller"'s quick end just leaves you wanting more.
Included alongside the three stock weapons aboard your ship, is a charge attack, which is executed by holding down the L1 button, and then "firing." The attack sends your ship hurling towards your enemies, putting you right in the line of fire. Aside from using it to obtain a trophy for completing a level without shooting, this particular attack seems entirely unnecessary. It’s both hard to use, relativity ineffective, and, if used incorrectly, could lead to a premature demise.
At $9.99, "PixelJunk SideScroller" is well worth the money, whether you're a fan of the earlier games in the series or not. It's a great blend of traditional shmup gameplay, without falling into the bullet hell trap. While it might not take too long to breeze through the game's levels, like all good shooters, breaking your high score should be incentive enough for repeated run-throughs. If you're looking for a solid introduction to the genre, or are a fan of the other PixelJunk games, it's worth spending an afternoon with "SideScroller" to see if you have what it takes to survive.