I want to be clear on a few points from the beginning. First, just so everybody can relax, I played through the game on Normal. Second, I am absolutely sure there are people out there that will love this game. I’m sad to say, that I am just not one of those people. The PixelJunk series has always been clever and interesting, but PixelJunk SideScroller just did not do it for me.
PixelJunk SideScroller is considered a side story of PixelJunk Shooter, and is said to be the game that the pilot from Shooter plays on the way back to Earth. Developer Q-Games decided to give SideScroller the retro feel, complete with the look of a curved CRT, making SideScroller feel like an arcade cabinet. The game play also brings back retro, single stick, side-scrolling by only allowing the players to fire their weapons, of which there are three, to the right. Players will have the opportunity to play through three sectors, each consisting of four stages and a special “Last Stage” if you play through on Normal.
SideScroller has some great things going for it. My favorite part started the second I loaded up the game from the XMB. Before players reach the start menu, they are treated to the high energy beats that run through PixelJunk SideScroller. There are a few levels that tone down the jams, giving players more soothing, smooth tunes, but for the most part, SideScroller’s soundtrack is high energy electronic and dubstep music. When this soundtrack becomes available, I will have it in a heartbeat.
SideScroller not only benefits from a fantastic soundtrack, but also the vibrant visuals put on display. Every level in PixelJunk SideScroller has a monochromatic theme. In one level, everything is shades of blue, with ice that can be blasted through. Another level is done completely in shades of orange and features lava that moves and dances as the environment changes. The details in the background and foreground add to the visual splendor of each level, making each environment just as interesting as the last.
I enjoyed the look and feel of SideScroller, but even all of its charm couldn’t make up for the frustration I had with it. PixelJunk SideScroller is a difficult game. I understand that it was built that way, and to an extent, I enjoy the difficulty. That is what keeps bringing people back to a score hunting game like this, and for those of us that can’t handle the Normal mode, the developer gives us a Casual mode to play through and enjoy. The problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. Nearly every level had a point where your ship enters a room and tons of enemies line the walls shooting at you from behind, above, below and the front. The fact that you can only shoot forward makes this situation hard, but I fought through it anyway, and my reward for just barely destroying all of the enemies was to have more of them spawn all around me. In situations like this, the screen is filled with enemy fire and you can only take two hits before you explode. I repeated sections like this constantly, and there was at least one in every level. The more I repeated it, the more frustrated I got. I will give it to the developers, they added a lot of checkpoints, but it didn’t make up for those parts of the level design feeling cheap.
Another unbearable part of the game was the boss fights, which make up the last stage of each sector. The first wasn’t bad, but the second and third bosses did nothing but make me angry. I am fine with multi-stage bosses, but only being able to take two hits and having a boss that constantly fills the screen with death gets frustrating. The difficulty of these never-ending fights and the fact that there is no way to heal really made these encounters uninviting for me. I can appreciate a difficult game, but once again, the constant repetition made me want to stop playing rather than fight through it.
The PixelJunk series is charming and imaginative. SideScroller has a lot going for it, and even though I had a hard time enjoying myself, I know that there are people out there that will love this game. If you enjoy difficult bullet-hell games than you will probably enjoy SideScroller. On the other hand, if constantly dying and repeating the same sections of the level over and over again makes you want to quit, this game probably isn’t for you. At $9.99, it is up to the individual gamer to decide if PixelJunk SideScroller is their cup of tea. As for me, I will stick to PixelJunk Shooter 2.
Review copy provided by publisher.