Uncovering Hidden Gems: PixelJunk Shooter

For years, Q-Games has dabbled in the category of quirky games for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, releasing such titles as PixelJunk Eden, PixelJunk Racers (think slot cars for a new generation), PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk 4am. However, the team was also made up of avid shooter fans, as you could tell with the release of PixelJunk SideScroller in 2011. However, perhaps the company's most noteworthy title was PixelJunk Shooter, which surfaced for PS3 in 2009.

This game takes the best elements we've come to expect from shooters and wraps it all together in a funky little package, with the kind of soothing soundtrack you expect from a rhythm/music game (not something along the lines of Just Dance, but rather a more off-beat affair, like those Japanese dancing games) and visuals that almost appear as if they're popping off a canvas. The pure imagination that went into PixelJunk Shooter's design shows at every given moment of the game, even when you're facing near-impossible odds.

In PixelJunk Shooter, you're guiding a spaceship through the confines of underground caverns, attempting to access gates that will allow you to move further down. To do this, you'll need to meet goals set within that certain level, such as rescuing survivors or discovering hidden diamonds. Some stages will also require you to defeat enemies, normally lava-spewing nightmares or weird creatures that will stop at nothing to destroy your ship.

Along with these foes, one of the biggest hazards you'll face in PixelJunk Shooter is the environment itself. There is lava scattered on a few of these stages, and if you fly too close to it, your ship will implode from the heat pressure. Fortunately, a fair share of these stages also has water, which you can use to counteract the lava and turn into dry land (because, nature, you see). You can also find secondary items to help give you an advantage, including a temporary shield that guards you from heat damage, as well as a "water bomb" that floods the stage with the blue stuff, to the point that the lava becomes a thing of the past.

As you proceed through the game, stages become more elaborate, which makes it that much more difficult to rescue survivors (whom you pick up by sending out a connected sponge from your ship) and find gems. However, the appeal of PixelJunk Shooter is that it's challenging, but never to the point of being frustratingly difficult. The controls manage very well, utilizing a twin-stick approach with movement and firing, and operating smoothly when it comes to secondary features, like picking up "water bombs" and survivors.

Best of all, PixelJunk Shooter isn't a game that you have to tackle solo. The game supports co-op, allowing a second pilot to come in and help you complete objectives. It can be a competitive affair at times, such as "who can race to the diamond first" sort of deal, but it's all in good fun, and Q-Games has made it such an approachable game that anyone can easily get into it.

Two years later, Q-Games returned with PixelJunk Shooter 2 for PlayStation 3, featuring more elaborate levels, more substances to use over the course of the stage, and more unlockable goodies, depending on how many survivors and gems you picked up. It was as successful as the first game, leading Sony, teaming with Double Eleven and Q-Games, to repackage the games for the recently released PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, which combines the best elements from the two games into one convenient, and entertaining, package.

If you're looking for a shooter that's a bit off-the-grid, but with appealing design and long-lasting gameplay, PixelJunk Shooter is definitely a title that will grow on you. And now, you can enjoy it on PS4 and Vita through one convenient purchase. Now if that doesn't make a "splash" (ahem), nothing will.