PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD (PlayStation Vita)
Developer/Publisher: Q-Games, Double Eleven/Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: July 30th, 2013
Gaming culture has long been a cynical one, even within one of the most imaginative mediums in mankind’s history. “Are they kidding me with this camera?” we ask, seven minutes into a game that took dozens of people at once several years to make.
The HD era has brought with it re-releases of games past, paving yet another avenue for pent up gamer frustration. Publishers are even collecting collections at this point; how many times do they want us to pay for this stuff?
When the option presented to you is as finely-tuned as PixelJunk Monsters, as many times as you’re asked.
Every time people compare their favorite PlayStation Network games, 2008’s PixelJunk Monsters always enters the conversation at some point, and they still speak as fondly of it now as they did when it was new. PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD, then, delivers exactly what the title promises: the definitive version of the quintessential tower defense game. That means the original PS3 game, the Encore DLC, the Deluxe content from the PSP port, and a few other additions are rolled into one portable package that won’t look blurry on your PlayStation Vita’s OLED screen.
If you’ve never played PixelJunk Monsters, the rules are simple. Waves of monsters are looking to reach your base at the end of the level, and as Tikiman your job is to protect the villagers that live there. To do so, you replace trees along the path with attack towers ranging from medieval arrows to anti-air lasers and mortars. Each monster that survives will kill one villager, and the death of all 20 means it’s game over. If you manage to make it all the way through with everyone intact, you get a rainbow.
Each tower can be leveled up three different ways: gaining experience by damaging enemies, using rare gems that are occasionally dropped by slain enemies, or simply by standing and dancing next to one for a little while. That last one will remain adorable until the end of time.
Placing and leveling the right towers is key to simply beating a level, but it’s absolutely essential if you plan on rainbowing every stage. That means snap decisions on whether to use gems to level your basic towers or unlock advanced weaponry like Tesla towers and the above-mentioned lasers, and even razing towers to collect the gold you’ve spent to buy more powerful stuff down the line. Getting a perfect result presents a massive difficulty spike on harder levels that’s turned players off of previous iterations of PixelJunk Monsters, and Ultimate HD hasn’t rebalanced the game to change their minds.
While it doesn’t match the satisfaction of seeing a world map peppered with little rainbows, no one should have any trouble simply getting through each level, even without bumping the difficulty down to casual. Even if you feel like restarting, the minimal load times keep the “one more try” mentality the game instills in you from ever festering into frustration. No matter the experience you’re looking for, PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is gratifying.
While the additions are minor between Deluxe on PSP and Ultimate HD, they’re definitely appreciated. The most obvious is that the visuals now match the PlayStation 3 version’s to a tee, with zero of Deluxe’s jagginess. It also seems to run much more smoothly, if playing Deluxe on my Vita is any indication. The default camera is zoomed in as it was in Deluxe, but now the action can be zoomed out to allow you to see the entire playing field at once if you choose, as in the original PS3 release. The detail on the zoom is nice, but I personally found it best to see everything on harder levels. Tikiman can also be told where to go with a tap of the screen, but he’ll always walk in a straight line without trying to go around obstacles like rocks or enemies, so it’s rarely the best option.
What could have really used an overhaul, though, is the online co-op play. Not the idea — playing through tough levels with a friend is always a treat — but its execution is as baffling now as it was on PSP. For whatever earthly reason, your progress through Ultimate HD is separated between the two modes; getting to those later stages requires a second, separate co-op playthrough. This was a common complaint four years ago, and it’s baffling that the issue remains.
Fortunately, all of the other untouched areas are those that elevated PixelJunk Monsters beyond simple cult status. The vibrant hand-drawn graphics are right at home on the Vita’s OLED, colorful and cheerful as ever, while the ambient soundtrack escalates from calm to high alert without ever making you feel too anxious. Otograph’s work on the music remains a favorite, several years later.
While the original PlayStation 3 release remains one of the best games on the platform, PixelJunk Monsters begs to be played on the go. Deluxe is playable on Vita and was good fun just a couple of weeks ago, but there’s no going back once you’ve played Ultimate HD. It’s the most complete version of an all-time classic, and it’s perfectly portable to boot.
Buy it again.