Bonus Points Ep. 9: Flower & Pixeljunk Shooter

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Flower

Playing Flower will put you to sleep. That’s not an insult, it’s a testament to how relaxing the game truly is. I’ve never been so able to sit down with a game and simply unwind. And really, that’s the entire point of Flower. There’s no enemies, no death traps, no way to fail at the game at all. The story, what little there is, is an abstract allegory of the power of nature and how it can coexist with our modern world. At least I think it is. What’s presented can be interpreted in many different ways so each player will get something unique out of it, much to Flower’s credit.

Simplicity is the goal of Flower and that’s apparent in the controls. By merely pressing a button and tilting the Sixaxis, you guide your initial flower petal into other flowers to cause them to bloom. With each flower bloomed another petal is added to your train and by the end of each level can number in the hundreds to an impressive effect. As flowers are bloomed, more of the level is opened up until the end is reached. And that’s all there is to it. Flower is all about taking in the sights and enjoying the experience. Granted, the experience is only an hour or two long, but there is some replay value to the game. Each of the six levels have three secret flowers to bloom, some of which can be a challenge to discover. I’d also recommend going for the Trophies as they consist more of challenges than the standard ‘beat a level, get a Trophy’ variety.
It’s the visuals and sound design that make Flower what it is in truth. Every blade of glass is individually rendered and reacts realistically as the wind blows through. Colors pop off the screen especially as petals of all types swirl together in your train. It’s all beautiful to watch and sets your mind at ease. The scenes at the end of a level where everything comes to life is incredible to watch and is comparable to the same sequences in Okami. The music is all low key and adds to the relaxed nature of the game. Each flower bloomed also adds a musical note which is its own little reward. The effect is that even if you only watch the game, you’ll still be able to unwind and even take a nap.

If you prefer games that are action packed and keep you excited, Flower isn’t for you. However, if you want a unique experience or just a way to take things easy, it’s worth a look.

8.0/10

Pixeljunk Shooter

Pixeljunk Shooter is a lot like the classic arcade game, Defender. Both look like side-scrolling shooters, but the main goal is actually to rescue civilians. Pixeljunk Shooter goes one step further by adding a third element that I’ve never encountered before and makes the game stand out. The basic setup for the rescue mission is that it is hundreds of years in the future and mankind has begun excavating unknown planets for resources. On one planet, the excavation has accidentally unleashed a horde of monsters that have the team trapped. It’s a simple premise, but it serves the gameplay well.

There are three main aspects to the gameplay of Pixeljunk Shooter: rescuing civilians, shooting monsters, and solving the environmental puzzles. All three blend in together so it never becomes obvious that you’re being directed to do one or the other. The civilians are often guarded by monsters or a puzzle. Destroying monsters actually requires more precision than the average shooter. Stray shots could kill the civilians and though you won’t lose immediately, if enough die you’ll have to restart the level. The greatest challenge throughout the game is the environmental puzzles. Water, lava, loose rock, ice, magnets, explosive gas, and a black liquid all come into play and have different effects on each other. By discovering these effects and controlling how the elements flow is the only way to make it through each level with the challenge steadily increasing as the game progresses. These puzzles are the true star of the game and are a lot of fun to work your way through.

Precision shooting and element manipulation would be much more difficult without good control, something that’s no trouble at all for Pixeljunk Shooter. The ship can rotate 360 degrees and comes equipped with a blaster that can be charged for homing missiles. There’s also a grappling hook, which is used to grab civilians and items. Temporary upgrades are available and equip the ship with a lava or water cannon to further help with the puzzles. The only real problem with the game is that it is a short experience and can be completed in about three or four hours. What makes it worse is that it ends with a “To Be Continued.” It would have been great if the developers had extended the development time and make the planned sequel a part of the first game.

The game’s look is what will catch your attention before even pressing a button. It’s crisp and clear with colors that easily stand out. The style aids in this by making everything seem as if it was cut from felt. The pleasing look extends to the impressive liquid effects as everything flows naturally and reacts instantly to touching a different element. Water moves the fastest while the lava looks like it’s thicker and a bit slower. The soundtrack gives the whole experience a cool feeling. The music is upbeat and catchy, rarely slowing the tracks down though some do help set the mood. The whole game comes across as active and fun loving.

Pixeljunk Shooter is a fun and unique game that comes up short in terms of length. It’s so enjoyable that you don’t want to stop. There are collectibles to find and trophies to earn, but the freshness is gone somewhat after the first playthrough. It’s still worth a look though your mileage from the game may vary.

8.1/10

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