Pixel Junk Monsters isn’t new, I’ve been playing it since the initial release by Q Games back in 2008 on the PS3, and I bought the Encore DLC, as well as Pixel Junk Monsters Deluxe on the PSP. What is new is that Double Eleven studios have managed the conversion to the PS Vita and made the most complete version of the game to date. There’s some pedigree here, both LittleBig Planet Vita and the port of Limbo have been handled by the studio, so we can expect great work.
For anyone who hasn’t played this game before, Pixel Junk Monsters is a tower defense game that has you (Tikiman) defending your flock and home against attack from waves of monsters that are hell bent on eating the villagers for lunch. Each level is a varied layout of the home surrounded by trees, rocks and lakes that provide a path for the monsters to move along. The core principle of the game is to place towers that have specific weapons attached to fight the monsters, and make sure the right type of tower is selected for the right types of monster. For instance, ground based monsters can’t be hurt with weapons that target the sky, and vice versa. You start with arrows that can target both ground and air, cannons that aim for the ground, and anti-air guns that only go for the flying beasties. Randomly placed combinations of these will see you through the first couple of levels easily enough, but when the waves get more intense you have to really think about what goes where.
Destroying the monsters helps the tower that got the kill to level up, and gives you coins that you use as the resource to build more towers. Defeated monsters also occasionally drop blue gems that can be used to either upgrade what you’ve already built to give the towers more range or power, or you can save them up to buy new types of tower from the village. The decision between using gems for improving towers or saving for new and more powerful ones is a good one, it becomes a trade off at times where you know there’s a particularly nasty monster coming up, but you also need to take down weaker but more numerous ones immediately. There is an alternative through, you can upgrade your towers by dancing by them. It’s slow progress once you get past the first part of levelling (and there are 5 levels for every tower), but it’s a gem-cost effective way of protecting the homestead. The HUD is your key to assessing the information and working out what to do next, with the current wave and upcoming monster type shown on the left, and the gems, coins and flock totals on the right.
As you successfully defend levels you open up the next one in sequence, and progression is pretty linear throughout. Perfect clearing a stage (not having anyone munched on) gives access to special stages that give you new abilities and towers when you finish them. This is also the way you open up other islands to play on. You start on Tiki, then move to Gati Gati, and then on to Toki. For PJM Ultimate there is also Tum Tum island where you enter 5 letter words and it creates a random stage for you (try Codec!). The game is not something you’ll breeze through in a couple of hours, but this addition of being able to create your own level massively expands the scope once you’ve finished the core stages. There’s also challenge mode which is accessed from the Tiki Hut on the main menu, which is where you earn the majority of the games trophies through completing the specified stages from the main game under new conditions like not allowing towers to upgrade, or saving 25 gems. And then there’s the local and online co-op where you can go through the main game stages with two players.
So there’s a lot of choice in a game that costs the same as a cinema ticket, but is it accessible? The game is tough, and whilst it eases you in gently, it punishes mistakes once you get to medium and hard stages. I’m used to the gameplay and the mechanics, and there are still levels I’ve done several times before that have caused me to restart over and over again. This isn’t a bad thing, restarting is quick because the load times are almost non-existent, but I can see this being frustrating for some. There is a casual mode that makes things a bit easier, but all trophies are done on higher difficulties. And for the masochistic there’s a hard-core mode as well.
What’s been changed from the PS3 and PSP versions is very little. The mechanics remain the same, the levels are the ones you’ll remember if you’ve played the other versions, and the style and music are all there. Some of the more powerful towers aren’t available until later than they were in the other versions, but it’s not detrimental to the gameplay. What has been updated is the interface to go with the capabilities of the new platform. Full touch controls have been implemented and they work seamlessly alongside the original scheme. Simply touching on the screen moves Tikiman to where you want, though he won’t go around obstacles, and tapping trees to bring up the menu and select towers is obvious. I’ve not really used this much though, the analogue stick and buttons do the job just fine, and it’s probably because I’ve put so many hours into the game using them I struggle to pick up any other controller method. My favourite new feature though is the ability to zoom out and view the whole stage instead of just being focussed on where Tikiman currently is. This is invaluable for the stages where things get a bit crazy with multiple entry points and mixed up monster types.
I’m really impressed with the work that’s been done with this version. I was half expecting to start playing then realise that I’ve done this before and lose interest, but it’s been the opposite. I’ve found myself looking for time when I could fit a stage or two in and continue protecting the flock, which I haven’t done with many other Vita titles recently. Pixel Junk Monsters was always an essential purchase for the PS3, and the same is true with Ultimate HD for the Vita. It’s something you should seriously consider getting, and if you don’t have a Vita, consider picking it up on Steam on 26th August when it comes out for PC too.
Double Eleven kindly sent us a PS Vita review code, though our excitement with the game meant we’d already bought a copy. We gave the review code away on Twitter to one lucky winner, @nick__hulk.