Reviewed: August 22, 2008
Released: July 31, 2008
It seems like these past few months have been very kind to PS3 owners. It all started with the much-anticipated release of Metal Gear Solid 4, which successfully put the wraps on the prodigious series in excellent style. Then came a Sony system update that added an in-game cross menu bar (XMB) and all-new Trophy system to rival the Xbox 360’s lauded Gamerpoints Achievements. As if that weren’t enough, we now have one of the most innovative and enjoyable platformer-puzzlers to come out, in the form of PixelJunk Eden – and best of all, it will only set you back ten dollars.
PixelJunk Eden is the third release in the PixelJunk series of casual games released for download via the Playstation Network (PSN). I use the word “series” loosely, because none of the three PixelJunk titles follow any particular theme or have even the slightest bit in common with each other – other than the fact that all three titles are affordable, uncomplicated, and addictive as heck.
While the first PixelJunk title was a top-down slot car racer, and the second an old-school tower defense RTS – Eden is a trippy and twisted blend of platforming and puzzle elements, mixing equal parts LocoRoco, Spider Man, and 60’s era magic mushroom experience. The result is an entrancing and addicting fix, and most gamers will find themselves sucked into the innovative gameplay for hours on end as they seed and grow their own psychedelic gardens.
PixelJunk Eden is one of those titles that melds a handful of basic gameplay elements in a very simple-but-stylistic package, and comes out looking like the coolest thing since sliced bread. Much like Tetris or Bejewled, or any other blockbuster casual title to come out before it, Eden does not have any elements about it that is particularly new or groundbreaking – it just uses the right things in the right way to make a really great game.
Think of it like your mom’s recipe for cookies – although the recipe uses nothing more than sugar, flour, and eggs, your mom can somehow make those cookies taste a lot better than you ever could with the same ingredients. That’s Eden – its like a really tasty cookie made of the simplest of ingredients.
The gameplay starts off with a rather bleak setting – nearly a blank screen with a few plants in the background. Your character, a “Grimp” appears at the bottom of the screen looking a bit like a cross between a glowworm and a Hershey’s Kiss.
The Grimp may have a limited library of movements (jumping, spinning and grabbing) but he does have one special power – the power to spin a strong silk fiber that can be used as a Spider-Man style web to swing and sling the Grimp from plant to plant, object to object, around each of Eden’s gardens. An interestingly complex physics engine allows the combination of timely swinging, jumping, and spinning to navigate the Grimp around the intricately detailed levels, in efforts to destroy the multitude of floating Prowlers and distribute their pollen to the garden’s seedlings.
Once filled with pollen, these seedlings erupt, grow, and multiply – helping to dynamically build each of Eden’s gardens and bring the Grimp closer to the prized Spectra. These Spectra look a bit like glowing conch shells, and collecting a certain number of these is the objective of each of the game’s levels.
Each of the Eden’s 10 gardens features a series 5 Spectra that are released one-by-one with every successive re-run through the garden. Each of these re-runs completely resets the garden to its original state, and the previously obtained Spectra have to be recaptured from their prior locations. This means that the first run you find Spectra 1, the second run you find Spectras 1 and 2, the third run Spectras 1, 2 and 3, and so on.
Knowing that, one would think that repetition would be an issue – but Eden’s levels are so well designed and fluid that the game ends up playing much more like a skateboarding or snowboarding title, and you don’t mind playing the same levels over and over to get a better score or a more perfect line.
In reading an interview with Q-Games’ President Dylan Cuthbert, he explains how PixelJunk Eden was built out of the work of Japanese artist Baiyon, who designed the background foliage long before the game was in the conceptual stages. Once these background designs were presented to the developers, they built Eden from the ground up to fit within the visual thematic. It is no surprise then than PixelJunk Eden looks absolutely amazing.
Eden features a visual style that smacks of great Japanese game visuals that we have grown to love over the years. From 1999’s Parappa the Rapper to 2007’s LocoRoco, the Japanese have proven that less can be more if done in a stylish manner, and Eden features the same simplistic visual style that is both absorbing and engrossing, without being distracting.
The use of color is absolutely stunning, and the fluid transitions between the different lighting schemes and foliage designs are truly mind blowing. Just when you think the game looks like a flat cartoon, something amazing pops up to deliver a sense of realistic depth and shading.
The very same artist responsible for Eden’s dazzling background art, Baiyon, is same artist responsible for the amazingly interactive audio soundtrack. With tracks that meld and morph to match the onscreen action, Eden has an audio style that is reminiscent of classic Tetsuya Mizuguchi titles Rez, Lumines, and Meteos. In fact, it is a strange irony that Mizuguchi’s studio is Q-Entertainment, and that Rez was originally to be called Project Eden.
Eden’s soundtrack fluidly blends orchestral soundscapes with digital backbeats that flow naturally from scene to scene. The sound is both pretty and exciting, and even non-playing spectators will find themselves entrances with the audio package.
PixelJunk Eden packs hours upon hours of addicting gameplay into one of the most stylistic audio/visual packages yet seen on the PS3. And for a mere ten bucks, and about fifteen minutes of download and installation time, you can have one of the most visceral gaming experiences of 2008.
With the inclusion of online leaderboards, online co-op play, and being one of the first games on the system to dish out a slew of PSN Trophy achievements, the package gets even better.
As if that weren’t enough, Q Games added a bevy of cool interactivity features; including support for PSP Remote Play, allowing PSP owners to play their game not only from anywhere in the house but from any WiFi hotspot, as well as a revolutionary YouTube feature, allowing gamers to upload replays of their runs to share with other gamers.
Great visual style, great audio soundtrack, great gameplay, and great technical add-ins make PixelJunk Eden the best ten dollars that gamers can spend on their PS3 this year.