Weird, addictive and downright engaging. It must be a PixelJunk game!
There’s something about a game-changing experience that just gives me the tinglies so buckle up boys, this is a rave with a 10x combo. It’s no secret that PixelJunk Monsters pretty much stole my heart, and I approached PixelJunk Eden with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation at what appeared to be an entirely flOw-like experience. Unlike the waiting room of games, Eden delivers with solid gameplay and an entirely unique audiovisual experience. As much a departure from the strategic tower defense of PixelJunk Monsters as Monsters was from Racers, Eden has definitively raised the bar for PSN titles.
You play as a “Grimp”, which as far as I can tell is a tiny little biped with antennae (or a floppy Conan O’Brien-esque pompadour). As Mr. or Mrs. Grimp you are equipped to explore varied sub-gardens with the goal of collecting Spectra in order to grow Eden, or your home garden, thereby gaining access to additional gardens. There are five Spectra hidden throughout each garden, and much of the game’s depth comes from the replaying of a garden a minimum of five times to collect them all. The first time through you need only collect one Spectra to clear a stage, the second time, two, and so forth. This creates a solid progression of exploration, and while you might expect such a structure to yield repetitive results it really just allows for more satisfying gameplay as you build on the knowledge gleaned from the last round to get to that next Spectra.
In order to reach the elusive Spectra the Grimp must use relatively simple tools to collect pollen and bloom seeds scattered throughout the 2D landscape. At your disposal is the ability to swing from a silk thread, jumping and spinning. The controls are simple: the analog stick directs the Grimp while a single press of X causes him to swing from a thread of silk and a double press of X is a jump. Depressing the face button of your choosing – I like, again, X – while soaring through the air will send your Grimp in a spinning motion allowing it to pass through plants and attack enemies. Guiding the Grimp to advantageous positions, landing pollen multiplying combos, blooming seeds and retrieving Spectra are the core of gameplay, and with it comes a fair bit of gravity-defying acrobatics. Additionally, the silk threads are not only invaluable in navigating a garden, they also serve as Spectra-detecting sonar.
Each garden begins as a relatively sparse expanse dotted with seeds and swarming with gently floating Pollen Prowlers. Pollen collection is a critical task that allows for the blooming of seeds and is a matter of bursting the Prowlers and collecting the pollen that results. The silk threads spun by the Grimp allow you to achieve combos by bursting multiple Prowlers in a single pass. Complicating this otherwise leisurely task is the Oscillation bar, which depletes as time passes. The Oscillator can be restored with the acquisition of a Spectra or little nuggets of time-extending goodness scattered throughout the garden. Another incentive for a steady flow of a 5x Pollen Prowler multiplier is that it produces a ring of the little crystals – invaluable for an Oscillation quick fix.
The Pollen Prowlers are the Grimps’ enemy, though in early gardens they mostly appear as harmless, rather lethargic victims of your mindless trolling for pollen. Even as your enemies, the Prowlers won’t kill you, rather they will tear through your thread or knock you off your otherwise stable landing place. With the Oscillator constantly detuning, these measures make them hazardous enough – oftentimes, you will be knocked clean through to the garden floor as the Grimp’s mid-air maneuverability is limited.
A secondary objective (and one that earns you Trophies) is to bloom all of the seeds, an effect achieved by touching a seed that has been filled with pollen. Eden is the first game to have Trophy support from the point of launch and developers take note: Eden does trophies particularly well with little exception. It is possible to play through the entire game and achieve only two trophies, though somewhere around half of the trophies can be won with relatively little additional effort. This is, in my opinion, what it means to use Trophies to add to gameplay – there are no Trophies simply for completing the first level or logging in, you will have to play with certain goals in mind.
The “little exception” I alluded to is that a handful of the Trophies are a brutal kind of hard, yet none of them are gold (I guess when a game is this polished I get to be nit-picky). Due to the limit set on the amount of experience that can be gained from a single game’s Trophies, I expect that the lack of gold ones is a result of Q-Games opting instead for a satisfying quantity of the bronze variety.
If you happen to struggle with the Trophies you are sure to find guides on YouTube, as Eden incorporates a recording feature that makes it more than easy to document and post your successes. Remote Play is also included for PSP owners, and I can’t imagine not taking advantage of that feature. In addition to Trophies, you can track your progress in online statistics.
After gathering a handful of Spectra you’ll settle into the game’s rhythm, a harmonious combination of free-flow gameplay and strategic retrieval of the objective. The presentation is a 2D wonderland of mesmerizing abstraction in colorful and bold environments. The musical stylings of Eden are courtesy of Baiyon, who also had a hand in the original design and are conception of the game. This organic development is clear from the cohesive nature of sight and sound as well as the imaginative garden structures, each of which presents different challenges from predominately rock stages to vertically oriented ones to sprawling leafy terrains. The complexity and imaginative approach to each garden only increases as you advance, offering new adventures and effectively turning things on their head.
The multi-player is cooperative with up to three players locally. A successful run with a Grimp-happy friend is fun enough, but much of the game’s relaxation and self-satisfying wonder is lost in having to pay so much attention to joint navigation and communication. Half the fun of Eden is selfishly advancing at will, after all, and it just won’t happen when you are cautiously safeguarding against a player falling off screen or straying too far. The game’s immersive character may be lost in co-op, but in its place it offers up a completely different kind of fun. Besides, you will want to grab at least one friend to try for the Ping Ping Trophy.
With such rich presentation the simple gameplay is more than engaging, it’s addictive. Sure, it looks like a game you have to be high to play, Eden is deceptive like that. It’s an audiovisual experience as much as it is a game and a wholly absorbing one at that. It just may be a game you have to play to believe; incredibly captivating with an aesthetic as yet unseen the game is downright smart. I thought the PixelJunk ascent to awesomeness was complete with Monsters, and I am more than happy to be proven wrong.