PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD Review
Posted by Greg Giddens
If you thought that you'd saved the Tiki tribe from the perilous monster hoards attacking your settlements, then think again. Waves of vicious beasts still roam the wilderness, and Tikiman still only has one defence. It's time to construct towers augmented with powerful weapons and once again protect your kin from being gobbled up in PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD.
Q-Games' tower defence classic is now available on the PlayStation Vita, with all of the content from its PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable predecessors in tow, and a dash of high-definition polish to bring the action to life on your OLED screen. Touch controls have been implemented for menu navigation, camera orientation, and movement, but this alternative option doesn't trump the traditional analogue stick setup. As such, this is more of a re-release than an enhanced edition – but we'll take any excuse to greedily sink more glorious hours into this PlayStation Network classic.
For the somehow uninitiated, this is a traditional tower defence excursion wrapped up in a cute cartoon aesthetic. Vibrant two-dimensional monsters – ranging from giant spiders, hulking golems, and peculiar birds – march towards your stronghold, all intent on scoffing your settlement of 20 defenceless innocents. You, the brave but unarmed Tikiman, must construct towers through each small map to cut down the monsters as they travel along winding paths towards your tribesmen.
You're free to move around each arena and place towers on any tree that you can find, providing ample opportunity for a variety of placements. It can feel like trial and error at first, but once you get a feel for each stage, picking off the beasts successfully becomes a real tactical task. You only lose one civilian to each monster that manages to slip through, but the impact of this will be enough to prompt you to reconsider your strategy and change your tower placement. As such, replaying a level is a major part of the game's appeal. The drive to do better, climb the online leaderboards, and strive for a coveted rainbow medal by keeping all of the survivors alive is strong, and with the aforementioned multicoloured medallions critical to unlocking new areas of the island overworld, it's a testament to the game's design that it doesn't feel frustrating jumping back into previously completed stages.
Mowing down waves of attacking monstrosities is hugely satisfying, too, so designing the optimum kill zone with your towers is an engaging pursuit. With the maps offering so much choice, the game possesses a puzzle-like quality as you figure out the best defence pattern, and sometimes real-time decisions will have a significant impact on success. You both need to plan ahead, and think on your feet.
Indeed, you're given only a limited window between waves with little notice of what kind of attackers are coming next. Flying enemies will be immune to ground attacking towers and vice versa, so having the right mixture of defences is an important thing to consider. Getting the placement and type of attack wrong can prove a costly mistake, and leave you vulnerable in the early stages when you're working from initial, limited funds.
Speaking of which, money is collected from defeated foes and found in the occasional tree, allowing you to buy additional towers. Meanwhile, enemies will also drop the odd gem which can be used to instantly upgrade a tower or research a new one. Defences will improve over time as they thwart enemies. However, you can also place Tikiman next to a building and he'll do a little dance which slowly increases its power. Running around the map, constructing and upgrading your arsenal, researching new towers, and collecting resources keeps you busy throughout each wave, but it also augments the action with an uncharacteristically fast pace. Tower defence can be a slow genre, but that's not true here.
And if the strong-as-ever core gameplay and gorgeous visual upgrade wasn't enough, this re-release also comes packed with all of the content from the previous versions. There are three islands waiting for you to bravely defend their shores, along with a fourth landmass that creates randomly generated maps. The Tiki Hut – accessed from the main menu – offers 24 challenges with specific criteria, such as hoarding gems and not upgrading any towers. Finally, there's the option to take the fight online or via ad-hoc to co-operatively defend your settlement, with each player receiving unique resources, forcing you to work together towards a common goal.
PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD serves up a cannon blast of brilliance. At its core is a traditional tower defence game with a gorgeous aesthetic, but its considered gameplay, taxing tactics, and satisfying reward loop will make you dance to the beat of its drum. This will tear through your defences and devour your time like a gluttonous fiend. Don't miss this monstrous hit.