PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD Review

The PixelJunk games have been a bit of a permanent fixture on the PS3 and PSP, so it is about time one made an appearance on the PS Vita. PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is the game of choice for Sony’s handheld.

It’s not exactly a new game, PixelJunk Monsters was released on both the PS3 and the PSP over the last few years and there isn’t much change with the latest release for the PS Vita. PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is essentially a HD upgrade on the PSP version PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, a game that was well received on its 2009 release.

The original was a fantastic game and the same applies here. The HD visual upgrade is worth the extra investment though, but whether you like the game depends on one main thing.  Do you enjoy Tower Defense? We mean proper Tower Defense, not the likes of Plants vs Zombies that took the notion of those games to create something a little different. PixelJunk Monsters is proper Tower Defense, no real bells or whistles, simple to play, difficult to master.

If you do enjoy Tower Defense, then you’ll almost certainly feel at home of PixelJunk Monsters. If you’re not a fan of the genre, then there won’t be anything here that will change your opinion. You have a base, you have enemies, you set up defensive towers in strategic positions to stop the enemy reaching your base… Simple!

You play as Tikiman and you use all the usual Tower Defense tools you’d expect to protect your family who are stationed at your Tiki-Hut. The ultimate goal is to ‘Rainbow’ each level and not lose a single member of the family, by placing towers with various strengths an weaknesses along the path to kill each invading wave. Which towers you place, where and when, depends on the waves that are coming.

Some towers can attack rapidly, but do less damage, others will get off less attacks in that same time frame, but do a lot more damage, some can only attack ground enemies, others only flying enemies, other towers of course can cover both ground and air. Essentially every tower in your arsenal has various strengths compared to others and how you use them will play a huge part in your success.

Towers of course cost money and you are given a balance to start each level, allowing you to get a few towers on the playing field before the first wave starts, however you do need to earn money and gems to build new towers, upgrade the ones you have, or even buy new tower types. This can be done in a few different ways.

The main way is by killing the enemies that are in each wave. Each kill will reward you with coins and sometimes gems. Destroy an entire wave and you will also receive bonus coins. The other way is to move Tikiman around the level and try to find hidden coins in the trees, which can often give you that extra amount you need to get those all important towers in play.

Towers can also be sold, should they no longer be of any use, allowing you to swap out for something more powerful, or more relevant to the next wave. Whilst during the early levels this may not seem particularly necessary, as you progress you’ll find that learning this skill is vital to winning.

The gems that you collect also have a strategical element to them. They can be used to either upgrade existing towers, or for unlocking new tower types, or other little bonuses from your tiki-hut. How you decide to approach this is up to you, but again, this does need to be considered carefully. Towers do gain a type of XP for every kill they make and do upgrade upon reaching a level, but sometimes you may need to upgrade one quicker than they would take to get there via the XP route. The offset is that spending gems on upgrades could rob you of the chance of acquiring a new tower type.

It is this delicate balance that is rife throughout the game, that makes it a joy to play, mistakes can be undone, but they can also ruin a a perfect score. You may have a set up that will destroy the enemy of one wave with ease, but then find yourself open to devastation with the next wave. Your first few towers may get lots of kills in and upgrade themselves quickly, but then you find that towers nearer your Tiki-Hut are weaker and can’t finish of the enemies that break through the first few towers. It makes the game both challenging and rewarding in equal measures.

PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is just that, challenging and rewarding. You need to learn the levels and find the best way to beat them. You won’t breeze through each level at the first time of asking, so expect to go back multiple times as you work out the best plan of action. Even then the margins between just surviving a level and beating it to 100% are rather large. It can be frustrating when a single spider makes it to your base and ruins that perfect score, but it can also be oh so rewarding when you last tower picks it off at the last moment.

There are over seventy levels to work through, some of which will take a few minutes to polish off, others may take many, many retries and hours to finally solve properly. But that means you are getting plenty of content for your money, this isn’t like a single player story based game, where many will be happy to play through the once, beat the story and move on. This is a game that you’ll want to beat, you’ll want a perfect on every level.

As a port there aren’t many that have been done as well as this and Double Eleven deserve a lot of praise, the visuals are stunning and look amazing on the Vita’s OLED screen and the touch controls are optional, yet functional, allowing you to touch trees where you wish to build and move Tikiman to, or you can simply use the traditional physical controls. Nothing has been forced here and it makes the game all the better for it.

PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is, at the end of the day, a game that won’t be to everyone’s tastes.  If you have played every version of the series before this, you may find the challenge a little lacking, as you would have seen all the levels before. You do need to be a fan of the Tower Defense genre as there is nothing new on offer, but even with a passing interest in the genre, you will find this game a rewarding challenge from start to finish.