PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is a PS4 re-release of PixelJunk Shooter 1 and PixelJunk Shooter 2. Ultimate packs both of these games into one neat re-release, with updated graphics, of course. Although the game starts out strong, it doesn’t finish strong. The formula grows old a little over halfway through Ultimate, and the last several levels become an absolute slog. Although I truly wanted to love this game, it didn’t satisfy me at all, and it could have succeeded in many places where it failed… It just sloppy, to sum it up in one word. Make no mistake; PJSU has its many, many fans, and I can understand where people would find it enjoyable and different. I’m just not one. I suppose I’m one of the few detractors. Anyhow, here we go!
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate puts you behind the cockpit of a spaceship and tasks you with moving through the levels by blasting away your enemies and solving puzzles. The game is more arcade like, so it’s not big on story, but it does have a basic backdrop. In the future, some scientists and workers are mining out the underbelly of a newly discovered planet, but something unusual starts to happen. An ancient civilization below the surface doesn’t take kindly to the humans’ presence and fights back. Now, you must save the humans and leave the planet.
There are 6 worlds in PJSU; 3 from PJS1, and 3 from PJS2. Each world has 5 levels, and each level generally has 15-30 humans to save and 10-20 pieces of treasure to find, along with 1 hidden human who provides more storyline info. Saving humans is mandatory, aside from the hidden ones, but collecting treasure is optional to an extent. You must collect a certain amount in order to unlock the final level in each world. This gets a bit annoying near the end of the game because the number of necessary gems gets a little out of hand. For example, I had to backtrack through previous levels to unlock the last levels in the 4th and 5th worlds.
The gameplay is simple enough. You have a spinning attack and a missle attack, but there are other powerups along the way. For example, one allows you to shoot a stream of lava instead of missiles, and one makes you impervious to magnetic fluid that would otherwise kill you. You’ll need to make sure you don’t overheat; taking damage or shooting too many missiles at once can cause overheating. You can cool down by spinning, heading into water, or simply waiting for your meter to slowly decline.
Each level is split into a handful of segments, and you can’t advance onto the next segment until you save all the humans in your current one. To do so, you’ll need to solve some puzzles or do a bit of work. You might need to open one door or close another, or you might need to chain some events to access a human. At first, I found myself saying “oh, that’s clever!” but the novelty quickly wore off. Near the end, the segments became tedious and long, create boring sections even though the concepts shown were pretty nifty. For example, the last world is a cave system, making everything dark until you use one of the various methods to light the place up. However, many of these caves are maze-like, and getting lost, killed, or missing humans is far too easy.
One major problem is that the game isn’t balanced. Enemies get tougher, but you don’t get stronger. Your ship has the same speed and weapons in the beginning and in the end. Most enemies kill you in one or two shots, whereas you’ll need anywhere from 5-10 bullets to dispatch them. On top of that, you can be murdered by the elements far too easily as well; oftentimes cheaply. For instance, you’ll often need to drain pools of lava. Sometimes, a paper thin, invisible layer of lava will refuse to drain, and when you tap the rock where it’s hiding, you’ll explode. Even though you can’t see it, it’s apparently there… I died dozens of times to cheap instances like this. Other times, enemies or objectives will be hidden behind your HUD, making them nearly impossible to see; that is, until you’re blown up by them.
In essence, PJSU induced rage in me more times than I can count, for a variety of reasons. Cheap deaths, tedious segments, abnormaly, absurdly difficult portions, and poor design were often the causes.
At the end of each world, you’ll fight a boss. They generally get tougher as you progress, meaning that boss #1 is far easier than boss #6. They follow the general “find-the weakness” and “evade-patterns-of-attacks” tropes. They’re interesting, for the most part, and of course, they’re aggravatingly difficult as well.
Although the controls in PJSU generally handle pretty well, it’s the ship’s physics that don’t lend themselves well to quick, reflexive controls. Forward momentum will make it hard to quickly turn around and go a different direction, and sharp turns are impossible. The HUD is usually decent; it takes up minimal space, but it still gets in the way at times.
The soundtrack is great at times, but poor at others. It lacks any cohesive feel or general tone. At one point, it sounds like Daft Punk is performing while you play, but at other times, there’s nearly no sound at all, and if there is, it sounds nothing like Daft Punk. The soundtrack has no flow, it’s not memorable, and it doesn’t go along with the general overtone of the levels.
The one piece of praise I do have is the art style, which I do enjoy. The colors are vibrant, and the world takes on a good, new feel. It’s simply a shame that the rest of the game bogs this down.
In the end, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is a confusing, poorly put together game. It tries to be action packed, but it comes off as sluggish. It attempts to provide puzzles and challenges, but it simply comes off as tedious. The game itself seems to be comprised of short, quick segments, but the experience drags on for countless hours. The game is full of contradictions, and it doesn’t mesh well. As much as I love shooters and space, I have to give PJSU a score of 5.5. There is fun to be found, and it’s worth playing… for an hour or two, as the formula quickly gets old and induces rage. Now that PJSU is no longer free for PS+ subscribers, I would hardly recommend it to anyone.