‘Pixel Junk’ is the overarching name given to a series of titles developed by Q-Games which started in 2007 with the release of PixelJunk Racers. To date, the Pixel Junk label has covered racing, tower defence, platforming and shooting, and in its most recent release, we have a side-scrolling shooter in the guise of famous 80’s arcade games. PixelJunk Sidescroller is now available via PSN; in the game players attempt to blast their way through waves of enemy craft and copious amounts of deadly weaponry. Does this revival of a beloved old-school genre deserve your attention, or should it be consigned to the pile of historical garbage?
Pixels Have Never Looked So Good - Sometimes simple is best. Flashy graphics and exciting visuals are nice to look at, but sometimes a clean display can have its own benefits. Sidescroller offers up an interesting retro/future vibe, and you’ll never find yourself squinting to see what’s happening on-screen.
Retro Beats - I can imagine a lot of developers feel as though shooting games require a guitar-heavy soundtrack (a la Call Of Duty) in order to keep a player’s pulse up and adrenaline through the roof. Sidescroller takes the opposite approach, and instead uses a cool trip-hop/chillout soundtrack by High Frequency Bandwidth. Despite the chaos that frequently erupts on-screen, you will still find the music surprisingly relaxing.
Pixel Power! - Although the craft is relatively weak (it can die in two hits), there are some decent offensive options available. You can choose from machine guns, lasers and bombs, and each of these can be powered-up through a number of levels, until your weapons almost literally fill the screen. Your weapons also affect the environment that you are in, melting ice, destroying rocks and freeing lava streams to aid you in your passage.
Flexing Your Pixels – You never need to wonder just how good you are at Sidescroller as the game never ceases to tell you just where you stand amongst your fellow players. At the end of each level you are given your score, told whether or not you earned a medal, and even shown your rank against anyone else in the world that has finished the level. If you ever need motivation to improve your highscore, just try moving up a couple of places on the leaderboard.
PILE OF JUNK
Pixel Imperfect - Bringing an old-school genre up to date provides many challenges, not the least bridging the gap between yesteryear’s rock-hard gamers and today’s slightly wussier audience. Sidescroller hasn’t managed this particularly well, with the ‘Casual’ difficulty still causing enough problems to discourage new players, and a checkpoint system that will undoubtedly frustrate and infuriate the purist crowd.
You Sure That’s Supposed to Go There? - For a game with such minimalist design which often works well, Sidescroller has some strange design choices, not least of which is the decision to place a huge scoreboard at the top of the screen, which hinders your vision to the point of blindness if you find yourself up there. It’s not a game-crippling decision, but I’m really not sure if the indicator needed to be quite that big.
Not Enough Pixels to Go Round - Sidescroller is a short game, even by modern standards. With 3 chapters, and 4 levels in each, there isn’t a whole lot on offer. Three of these levels are shorter-than-normal boss levels as well, so in total you’re only really left with 9 levels to blast your way through. Each of these isn’t particularly long either, so if you’re going to play this, you better be keen on going back and improving your high-score, or you’re going to be done in an afternoon.
So what to say about PixelJunk Sidescroller? What’s there is good, but there just isn’t much of it. Aesthetically it’s very pleasing to look at and listen to, and the action-packed gameplay will keep you on your toes (or the edge of your seat, depending on how you play) from beginning to end. The main issue I found, which will divide the player-base significantly, is that Q-Games has tried to please everyone, and by doing this, I’m worried that they’ll have annoyed more people than they would have done if they’d stuck with either a modern interpretation, or simply stuck to old-school rules. Sidescroller is a fun game that deserves to be played, but don’t expect it to cater to your playing style.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*