PixelJunk SideScroller Review
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On 10/30/2011 at 08:00 PM by Jesse Miller
Remember when entering your initials meant something? PixelJunk does.
If you you're old enough to remember stuffing quarter after quarter into a Galaga arcade cabinet or if you can't get enough of the words "New High Score" this game is for you.
Sometimes the old gaming soul just wants something simple that harks back to a time now past. A time when gamers walked through dimly lit arcades, token stuffed pockets jingling and jangling like boot spurs; electric cowboys scrawling their initials into the annals of history one high score at a time. It was a magical time and someone out there must feel the same way because otherwise we wouldn’t have PixelJunk: Sidescroller -- a shooter made for the old school but a game that most will be able to enjoy.
The player makes their way through three stages that are divided into four sectors each -- the last sector in each being a boss battle. Weapon layout is limited to machine guns, a laser, and bombs. Each weapon can be upgraded to a max of five levels by collecting power-ups attained by destroying off-colored enemies. Cycling through weapons is done by pressing the square or circle buttons, which does the job, but since the triangle button is not used at all in the game I’m not sure why they just didn’t assign a weapon to each button, as that wouldn’t disrupt the flow of shooting quite as much.
Each sector is stylized in a nearly monochromatic color scheme with no two sectors matching exactly. As you make your way through one stage you’ll encounter a level where you’ll have to blast through ice blocks, another where you’ll have to avoid bursts of lava and another that will seemingly find you inside the stomach of a giant organism. The only real issue I had with the level design was that since the enemies are colored to match the stages it can be difficult to differentiate a bad guy from a blemish on a wall, resulting in some incredulous and frustrating deaths.
In addition to the basic weapons there is also a “charge attack” that is unleashed by holding the L1 button until the attack is charged and then letting it go to launch your little ship into a nearby enemy. It’s a powerful but inaccurate attack that leaves you vulnerable to death by bullets -- a better special attack would have been more useful and I honestly only used it a couple of times in my first playthrough.
The boss battles are pure fun and challenging too. Each one has multiple forms that will require the player to showcase a variety of different skills to take down. Don’t mince my words, Sidescroller is not an easy game -- you’ll die even on casual mode at least a couple of times -- but the challenge awards you with a great feeling of accomplishment that will see you throwing your arms up in the air after putting a stage behind you.
On casual or normal difficulties it should only take a couple of hours to blast through all three stages and the extra final one. Playing through all stages unlocks a “Final Stage” and beating that, in turn, unlocks a harder difficulty level. High score junkies with the need to sit higher on the leader boards will find some reasons to play through again, but I fear that most gamers will set it down after beating it just once. The Hard difficulty setting will add some incentive -- the aesthetic of the game changes to a completely different color scheme and the sectors are quite challenging -- but again, only the most hardcore of shooter fans will likely put the time in.
There is a local co-op mode available for those that would prefer to play with friends, but there is one issue that could be a problem for novice gamers in particular. Once a player has lost all their lives they’ll have to wait around for an indefinite amount of time, only being able to join in again once the remaining player has lost.
Sidescroller isn’t going to set the world on fire with its originality. It’s exactly what it says it is: a side scrolling shooter, and that’s all. The game may be short, but it is retro to its core. Level design and enemy placement are empahsized over flash and graphical flair. It values simplicity over a multitude of control options. At $10 on the PSN the bang for your buck ratio isn’t as good as it should be, but it's an otherwise pretty solid game. Whether you’re an old fogie or a young whipper-snapper you’ll likely find yourself googling the nearest arcade after playing through this game. Good luck finding one.