Ok, so let me get one thing out-of-the-way early on: Pixeljunk Monsters is one of my favourite games ever. That’s a bold statement, I know, but I have put enough hours into the PixelJunk Monsters series over the years to make a hardcore Call of Duty fan blush and scratch their head in disbelief. It’s seriously that good.
At the heart of PixelJunk Monsters is a sublime tower defence strategy game that rewards quick thinking, forward planning and smart decision-making. You are Tikiman, the last line of defence against the marauding monsters out to eat your cute Tikikids. You cannot attack the monsters directly. Instead each tree on the map is a potential site to build a defensive, autonomous tower that will protect your little sprogs from being munched up by the various critters the game throws at you.
To begin with your Tikiman only has access to a select handful of towers. The arrow towers have excellent range and are handy for attacking both flying monsters and ground monsters but unfortunately take a while to reload and can only attack one enemy at a time. Despite this they are a versatile all-rounder that can cause a lot of damage when grouped together. The cannon towers are more powerful and deliver splash damage that can damage big groups of ground monsters but can’t attack flying monsters and lack attack range. The anti-air tower (as its name suggests) peppers flying enemies with gunfire but are useless when it comes to ground enemies. The ice tower causes no damage but slows down enemies so they become more vulnerable to your offensive towers. Finally, there are a selection of powerful advanced towers that need to be unlocked with special gems that are dropped occasionally by enemies. These range from uber powerful mortar towers, to deadly lazer towers that cut through flying enemies to the all-powerful and versatile hive tower that releases small bees that fly around the map and attack everything. Awesome.
Should I build an arrow tower or a cannon tower here? Should I sit on this tower and wait for it to upgrade to a more powerful tower? Should I save my gems for a more advanced tower like the super effective hive tower or use those gems to upgrade the towers I already have? Should I save my money to yield a bigger bonus from the end of wave interest? Should I simply save my gems and use them as bombs when the going gets tough?
It’s an incredibly slick system that confidently walks the line between two very different emotions. Even though PixelJunk Monsters is always thoughtful and deliberate, the beginning is often laid-back and fairly chilled. The monsters in the early stages are feeble and usually powerless to your first set of defences. However, as the waves get higher and the monsters become more powerful and more plentiful the game does the old switcheroo. Suddenly, the monsters have shields or are less susceptible to fire. Suddenly, the monsters start going a different way than they used to. Oh no, maybe I should’ve placed that tower a bit closer, maybe I should’ve saved my gems for a mortar tower instead of upgrading that one cannon tower, maybe I should buy a lazer tower for those huge flying wasp things, maybe… Oh god the spiders are eating my kids! You get the picture.
The updated Vita version is mostly excellent. It is content-rich and includes all the DLC present in the PS3 and PSP iterations, has online/ad hoc coop and the visuals really pop on Vita’s beautiful OLED display. However, there is one caveat and that is some minor slowdown when the screen gets really busy. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means but it is something that is worth noting.
PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is a wonderful tower defence game which is the gold standard for all new tower defence games. It’s art-style is eye-catching and super charming, the gameplay is tight and polished and the music is chilled and catchy. When PixelJunk Monsters gets its hooks in you, you will become hopelessly addicted. Just make sure to build lots of arrows. Because of those pesky spiders. Those damn pesky spiders.
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