Sunday, January 11, 2009

PixelJunk Eden



PixelJunk Eden is available now on the PlayStation Network; not yet being a PS3 guy, that puts it outside the ambit of games that I can sample.

So instead, for the purposes of giving it as fair a hearing as I can, can I direct your attention to the trailer above, and encourage anyone who's had some time with it to talk about their experiences in the comments section of this post?

PixelJunk Eden is a 2009 Independent Games Festival finalist in two categories, and I have to hand it to PixelJunk, putting the developer's name right there in the title is a great way to build brand recognition.

10 comments:

Sim said...

I got this last month.
I was looking for a game to play when my brain was zonked from work, and my fingers, hands and forearms are shot from too much RockBand...
I downloaded a bunch of demos, this amougnst them.
Ended up buying the full version and found out pretty quickly that the increase in difficulty in the post-demo levels made it impossible to play with tired, aching arms and no thinky left at the end of the day...

The music is still very soothing, it blends with the game experience well, and doesn't stick around in your head afterwards.

The graphics are simple, they dont distract you to the point that you dunp out of the game's fourth wall in a OMGZ Shiny Shiny Graphics!!! fit.*

Actually, nothing really about this game stood out...

It's a basic 2D platformer where you leap about a "garden" with a itty bitty monkey thing, making like spiderman.

The object is to run your little dude (or his teather) into the beads of pollen that float past, which then power up a seed. Once the seed is at full power, and going whoom-whoom with energy, you jump your lil dude in to the middle and a plant starts to grow, giving you more stuff to grab onto, and spawning another seed to play with. The plant is done when you unlock all of the seeds, and it flowers. The level is done once you have created a set number of plants for the level.

So, it's non-violent (at least so far), doesn't require alot of skill to pick up, (X button and one of the movement sticks), and doesn't require acute puzzle-solving skills or the ability to figure out obscure item combos.
In other words, a perfect chill-out game, right?

Except that in computer gaming, it seems that most designers can't understand that sometimes people want to play a game just to experience it... They stick like glue to the IT MUST GET HARDER TO PLAY mentality like a 2 year old with a wet blankie. And instead of increasing the difficulty by making the jumps to the seeds a litte further apart, or their positioning a little more obscure, they have taken the lazy option and have implemented an ever-decreasing time limit to each level. COP OUT! Yes, you get time added when you spawn a new seed, yes, you can pick up time-boosters floating past, but seriously...

Why put so much effort into making a visually distinctive game, only to abandon all sense and not even put in an option to turn off the bloody timer?

Personally I think that Linger in Shadows deserves praise far more than PixelJunk.
Better music
Better graphics
Better interactivity
No effin time limit!

-----
* ahem, like Heavenly Sword does...

Greg Tannahill said...

Thanks, that's actually significantly more than I already knew about Eden, so I have learned something here today!

The timer sounds like a bad plan. It's very rare that anything with a timer which counts down rather than up ends up not sucking.

I have not heard of this "Linger in Shadows" of which you speak either. Care to elaborate?

Sim said...

I can't explain in any way that will do it justice!
It is a game that needs to be experienced.

I see 2 options:
1. you haul arse up to Sydney and let me squee about some of the coolness of PS3
2. I Haul box over to yours next time I'm in town... Which looks to be mid Feb sometime.

Sim said...

OH!
My Sister is looking for a Blue Sony PS1 or PS2 controller... Do you know of any good places to get 2nd hand console ware in Au?

Greg Tannahill said...

Your local second-hand retailer should have a selection; the chains vary from state to state so I don't know that I could recommend something in Sydney.

Doesn't look like I'm going to be able to afford a road trip prior to Swancon (Perth) in April, unfortunately, so you should definitely come down to Canberra in February - you can crash at my new place if you're looking for accomodation.

Sim said...

Hmm, I might be able to come down a day early...
Do you have room for me and my crazy flatmate??

Greg Tannahill said...

I have a whole unused room to put you in, I just might need to borrow some mattresses if you want something more bed-like than a couch. I think I can probably arrange that.

Sim said...

awesome!
I like the couch!
..and anyways, might be a bit sooner even. Work is making noises about letting ppl go at the end of the month...
if one of them are me, I'll plan a bit of an extended holiday in Canberra... so I'll see you even sooner!

Greg Tannahill said...

Okay, sounds good. Hit me up through the most recent post on this blog to get in touch, or you can ring me on 0400 389 343.

Chris said...

Hi Greg!

PixelJunk Eden remains my favourite game on the PS3. There isn't much competition for this position, but all the same I thought I'd give you a more positive spin on this game than Sim's account.

I downloaded the PixelJunk Eden demo when it turned up in the shop and played it quite a lot. In fact, after a few weeks I'd realised that I was playing the PixelJunk Eden demo more than anything else that I had. At that point, I sprung for the full game.

So the first positive thing I want to say about PixelJunk Eden is just how generous the demo is. This isn't one of these "play for 60 seconds then decide if you hate us" demos - I played it for weeks before it finally said (in effect) "Well, you've played me for this long - how about paying for me?" I was happy to do so.

The game is in essence a 2D platform game in which the player explores a space while constructing that space. As a child of the 8-bits, I love 2D platform exploration, and PixelJunk Eden adds to that a dynamic element in that the space you are exploring doesn't exist until you grow the seeds that make the plants that fill up the individual Gardens. (Actually, that's not true - the rock in the landscape is always there, and in later levels becomes more relevant).

You have two basic skills: you jump (and can spin while jumping to pass through any plants you encounter), or you hang from a thread and "spin" on the end of the thread like a trapeze artist.

You progress by getting pollen by 'popping' enemies with your body or thread, then hoover up the pollen by spinning in a circle to suck it all up. Getting a chain combo as you pop "pollen prowlers" increases the amount of pollen generated exponentially, and is the key to success in the game. There's a hypnotic pleasure to all this once you adapt to it.

The play of each level is timed. On the one hand, I agree with Sim that the game would be a much more relaxed laid-back kind of affair if it wasn't timed. But on the other hand, sometimes when you're playing this game and your head isn't in it, you become woefully incompetent and fall all too often. In these situations, having the game time out feels like a mercy.

Plus, to be frank, the time that is provided is pretty generous, and not only are power ups (crystals) provided in large numbers to top up your time, but you can earn more by hitting a combo 5 while "popping" the enemies, or by chaining 2 or more seeds. When you know what you are doing, the time ceases to become a problem, but the absence of an untimed mode is arguably an oversight. It would have allowed the game a wider appeal at very little development cost.

Much as I loved PixelJunk Eden as a one player game, it really started to move into another realm for me when I tried it three player. Now this is not an easy co-op game to play - it seems to have a design methodology intended to punish a failure to co-operate, which many players don't like. But get together with players who are capable of communication and co-operation and the play of PixelJunk Eden becomes utterly unique.

I can honestly say that no other multiplayer game has given me the pleasure I get when I launch myself on my line and rescue another player who is otherwise falling to their doom. I don't always succeed in these daring rescues, but when I do its a joyous moment.

The music and the graphical style are first rate, and give it a delightful aesthetic.

PixelJunk Eden is not without its flaws. The first three Gardens are great fun, but the difficulty curve gets quite steep - especially in three-player mode - and I feel this game would have made sense with more easier levels and fewer difficult levels. I haven't seen all the levels yet (even though there are only ten) and continue to play the game, mostly in the earlier levels. This is not to say I don't expect to complete all the Gardens at some point, but rather I am being entertained adequately in the portion of the game I have mostly played with thus far. (I am concentrating on doing everything in the early levels, since this is more enjoyable to me than struggling in the later levels).

That said, as my wife and I make a better and better two player team, the later levels seem more and more achievable.

Going back to the issue of the timer, as you become proficient at the game it is rarely time that becomes the source of difficulty so much as it is the increasing strength of the opposition: pollen prowlers start by dying on contact with either you or your thread, later, only your body will pop them. This makes chaining combos much more demanding. New enemies appear who have to be hit with particular timings, and (frustratingly) always come back when you kill them. This ups the degree of challenge quite considerably.

You can't die, only be knocked off, but since being knocked off effectively costs you time, the time resource takes the place of death. It is the only failure condition. (In multiplayer, you also lose pollen when someone falls off, which I view as unnecessarily harsh, but which does force you to work as a team).

As I say, PixelJunk Eden is the most interesting game I have seen on the PS3, and the one I have enjoyed the most. I'm thrilled to see it in the IDF this year and wish it the best of luck.

One last point: the developer of this game is not "PixelJunk" but "Q-Games". It's Dylan Cuthbert's outfit in Kyoto, Japan. The PixelJunk brand is a sequence of games they are making in 2D to make use of the possibilities of 2D play on High Definition screens.

I liked PixelJunk Racers, the first one, but it became bastard hard too rapidly. PixelJunk Monsters is a tower defence game that you play in co-op - my wife became absurdly addicted to it, much to my surprise. PixelJunk Eden is the latest one. Less addictive than Monsters (thankfully!) it's a genuinely original take on a well-established genre, and I heartily recommend it.