A few months ago I shelled out $500 for the technological marvel of graphics and processing power that is the Playstation 3. I was going to play the best, most recent, mind-blowing and technologically advanced game releases for the foreseeable future.
To fill the time in between massive sessions of the glorious-to-look-at Resistance: Fall of Man and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I purchased a whimsical game called Pixeljunk Monsters for $7.99 at the PSN store. I might as well have taken up smoking crack. This seemingly simple game (whose graphics aren’t anything to write home about and would be fine on a PS1) is utterly addictive and has left me at times in a state of mental ruin.
The game is your standard tower defense game. You are a cartoonish tribe chieftain who faces an onslaught of pesky beings bent on killing your people. Your mission is to run through various forests, chop down trees, and replace them with towers. There are cannons that bomb slow moving ground enemies, turrets to bugger flying fiends, and arrow towers that target both. As each round progresses, you will pick up valuable gold from defeated enemies, allowing you to build more towers, and gems, which will allow you to unlock more deadly towers. Devastating fire, electric, ice, hive, mortars, and laser towers will become available for a price.
The gameplay is hypnotic, from the incessantly innocuous background music (that is harmless, intoxicating, and somehow annoying all at once) to the consistent marching waves of enemies.
The waves occur by enemy type. There are ant-like drones that move slowly (cannons are best) and the rapidly moving and most troublesome (to me) spiders (numerous arrow towers). There are quick bats; large, slow moving helicopter flying thingies; ogres; big, fat flying thingies; and, well, you get the picture.
At first, the game tricks you into thinking it’s easy. You have 20 tribe members. Each monster that gets through your defenses will kill one. It is easy enough to pass each stage and lose only a few tribe members. What is difficult is passing each stage with a perfect score. In order to get a “rainbow” (perfection) you have to ensure that no monsters get through to kill any of your people. You need a certain amount of rainbows to progress in the game. You will become obsessed, then completely obsessed, with scoring a rainbow in each of the game’s screens. You will become so obsessed that you will restart the same screen over and over again after you have lost the first tribe member, until you realize that you have restarted that screen 35 times in a row and 3 hours of your life have slipped away.
The addiction curve for this game is pretty standard. It sucks you in, just like that allegorical kid in sixth grade who offered you drugs for free, then made you pay for them when you were hooked, then beat you up, and you came back for more. “Hey! I passed this first stage on my first try. It’s easy!” you’ll crow. But soon, the game begins to exact a price on you: time and mental anguish. “Hey, I got through that, but two of my people died. I’d better try it again and get it perfect this time.” Repeat ad nauseam.
The alternatingly fun and frustrating kick to this game is that sometimes the same combination/placement of towers does not always result in the same amount of dead enemies. On one attempt, you may kill that wave of spiders with two cannons and three arrow towers, on the next, one or two might get through.
The difficulty lies in effectively balancing tower placement with tower type with limited funds and deciding which towers to upgrade. You can “upgrade” towers in two ways: by “dancing” on them (stand on them). Each tower takes 15 or so seconds to upgrade to Level 2. To get to level 3 it takes about 30 seconds. You can get them to Level 5, but only by dancing for about a minute. Each of the towers gets various enhancements through these upgrades: quicker rate of fire, larger damage area, increased damage, increased range of fire.
And every second you’re dancing is time you are not picking up gold and gems from defeated enemies or building new towers to deal with that next wave of attackers. Thankfully, the easy way out for upgrades is to pay for them with gems. Again, this is a balancing act. You can use gems to upgrade towers or to unlock more powerful towers (fire, laser, mortar) that cost more gold but dispatch enemies more quickly.
You can also demolish your towers, recoup about 70% of the gold they cost you, and replace them with another type as the waves progress.
Anything but the easiest stages has 20 waves of enemies, and it’s important to memorize the order in which enemy-types come down the pike, as it will dictate when/how many of each tower type to build.
The fun lies in that there is no single right way to win each stage (with limited exceptions. One stage does have only four trees to build on, so there might only be one way), but likely multiple combinations. You’ll learn through trial and error, become ecstatic when you pass a wave that previously killed one of your tribe, then contort with rage as the next wave passes your defenses and does exactly that.
The good news is that after hours of toil I’ve rainbowed almost all the original screens.
The bad news is that they just came out with PixelJunk Encore. If the first two stages I’ve played are any indication as to how hard this is going to be, I’m seriously fucked, because I will be obsessed with rainbowing the impossible. Thanks for ruining my life, PixelJunk people. Thanks a lot.
My name is Big Eugene and I am a PixelJunkie. Now get the hell out of my way, I have to get to the basement, turn on my PS3 and play some more.