Double Eleven probably didn’t need to put this much effort into PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, but the British-based studio has anyway. By combining both previous Q-Games developed PixelJunk Shooter games into a single package – as well as fix up a variety of small problems along the way – it's managed to take two of the most noteworthy PlayStation Network titles, and combine them into a smoking hot PlayStation 4 compilation.
Shooter might not have been the best subtitle for this PixelJunk outing. Whereas most of the twin-stick genre relies on massive waves of speedy enemies to keep you interested, this game is mostly about exploration. As such, you'll spend less of your time blasting, and much more of it ship spelunking. It's not an all-out war against a cryptic alien race, but a rescue mission, where you’ll need to use your wits to save the survivors of a scientific expedition that's gone horribly wrong.
The basis of almost everything in the game is temperature. Your ship can take as many knocks as you can give it, but spend too long near a pool of magma, and you’ll soon find yourself chest bumping the ground. And that’s inconvenient really, seeing as you’ll be spending a lot of your time interacting with the fiery fluid: spray water on lava and it hardens to rock, which can then be blasted away; light gas on fire and it ignites, causing a chain reaction. Meanwhile, ice can’t be chipped, but it can be melted by a stream of lava.
It’s puzzles made up of these basic elements that will keep you occupied for most of your playtime. If you’ve never destroyed a thin wall of rock and found a tsunami of lava charging at you from the newly formed hole, then you'll finally have your chance. Moving from level-to-level is as easy as collecting all of the survivors – but you’ll need to brave the environment first.
What helpful little people these survivors are, as well. Panicked by earthquakes and the sudden appearance of deadly monsters, they’ll stand stock still regardless of whether or not their life is in danger. You’ll need to fly close enough to them to hook them into your ship – hopefully without shooting them in the face first. Killing your colleagues is a big no, despite how satisfying it is; in real life you’d probably only get away with offing one or two, but PixelJunk puts the limit at a massive five per level.
Collecting them all will open the gate to the next section, although you’d be hasty to rush off. You can collect diamonds, rescue VIP scientists, and find hidden chambers as well. These are completely optional, but are placed so naturally around each map that you’ll probably end up finding them anyway. It doesn’t feel tacked on like those feathers in Assassin’s Creed II or the Blast Shards in inFAMOUS, but an extension of what you’re doing anyway. It adds a decent amount of longevity, and is rewarded with some rather valuable Trophies. It’s simple, but it works.
The whole game would fall apart if not for a decent physics engine, which this title definitely has. Liquids flow nicely, and there’s a real weight to the ship that makes dodging falling rock or enemy attacks all the more challenging. To begin with this won’t be overly obvious, but it becomes more so as the difficulty increases.
That’s actually one of the advantages of the two PixelJunk Shooter games converging into one. The widely criticised length of the first title has more than doubled, and the increased difficulty of its sequel feels more logical given that it’s now the second half of a longer adventure. There’s no HD Collection style menu to choose from – it’s presented as a single title with no breaks. For that reason alone, this is probably the absolute best way of experiencing the two classics. And thankfully, the improvements don’t just stop at gluing together two games that you’ve played before.
The user interface has been improved upon, and the visuals are more striking than ever. The small changes to the heads-up display mean that it’s much more obvious how much you’ve collected and how hot your ship is. Meanwhile, the graphics themselves have been given a facelift, with environments appearing much sharper than before. To be honest, this isn’t always a good tweak, as spikey gas has now become an actual thing. Still, for the most part, it makes this re-release worth a look over its previous generation predecessors.
The title's multiplayer has also made a return. One player must rescue survivors, while the other tries to shoot them down. However, there’s a twist: the hunter player can’t see their opposition unless they’re directly in front of them. This makes for an interesting game of cat-and-mouse – especially if you get to face a player who can be tricky enough for the idea to really shine.
And when you’ve checked everything out, you may well have your Platinum Trophy. In combining the two PixelJunk Shooter games, Sony has allowed the developer to include more than a few Golds, plenty of Silvers, and, yes, a shiny Platinum pot. It’s probably not the biggest reason that you’ll want to return to this series, but it’s a nice way of rewarding those who go one step further in their exploration.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is an outstanding compilation of two PSN classics, which serves as a reminder of why these fluid-focused shooters were originally so much fun. Even better, the included titles complement each other so remarkably well that you'll struggle to see the seams, making this the very best version of an already impressive effort.