Movement. Color. Sound. Growth. Describing PixelJunk Eden makes the game sound more like an art project than a videogame and, at times, the game does feel like it would be more at home in a gallery space or swanky bar than at a gaming PC. Q-Games Ltd. have so far made a name for themselves on Sony’s PS3 with their PixelJunk games, but this is their first foray into the world of PC games. Is their first PC effort a strong one?
I find that many indie games don’t lend themselves well to being grouped into genres. While Eden may technically fit into the overarching net of being an Indie Action-Platformer, that description doesn’t touch on any of the more elusive mechanics and visual and sonic touches that make up Eden. Created in combination with multimedia artist Baiyon, his hand in the art direction and soundtrack make themselves immediately obvious when you start up the game. Vivid colors, striking patterns, adorable creatures and beats that wouldn’t be out of place in a club. It’s a consistent visual and audio treat, and for the duration of the game it remains the motivation to continue playing.
The hub combines urban shapes with organic ones
So we know the game’s got soul, but does it have the mechanics to match? Let’s check it out. In Eden you play as a Grimp, an agile little beast, as you explore Eden’s various Gardens. In these gardens are Spectra, plant like symbols that unlock further gardens. To get to these gardens you’ll have to grow giant plants by collecting pollen to fill the containers that unleash them. You’ll do this by launching yourself at Pollen Prowlers, the game’s abstract enemies. As you progress through the game you unlock new abilities that give you more control over your movement, and allow you to take down enemies in new ways, as well as destroy chains of them, unleashing increasingly large cache of pollen.
This is where the heart of the game reveals itself. Leaping from plant to plant, discovering new methods of exploring the world, crashing down onto the plant containers for extra points and collectibles, it reveals an arcade heart past the gallery aching multimedia appearance. For the PC version Q-Games have also redone the controls, taking advantage of the mouse for a smoother and faster feeling than the original PSN release. The game can be played exclusively with a mouse, although there are also alternate buttons for the various actions. The game can also be played the same way as its original release if you have a controller, but it’s obvious that the mouse controls are the superior method.
The game’s charm and variety comes from the small discoveries and changes in sights and sounds, which gives Eden’s Gardens a feeling not unlike that of the various skins in Lumines. This also ends up being where Eden’s flaws begin to show. While the core mechanics of movement remain satisfying to play with and master, it’s hard to get away from the feeling of repetition. The game also holds back a bit of information on the various mechanics, leaving you to discover them for yourself or simply popping up a tip down the road. Most of these tips are non-essential, but a few may prove critical. For example, in the lower left corner is an “oscillator” that fills up as you collect “crystals” within the game. The oscillator constantly depletes, and if you don’t keep an eye on it you can find yourself kicked out of the Garden prematurely. Kinda important, no?
Eden Encore acts as both a portal to additional levels, and a fast travel hub
These problems also pervade the menus and interface a bit. Eden forgoes a traditional level select menu for a hub world that leads into the Gardens. It’s a great way to keep you in the game, and gives off a bit of a Mario 64 vibe (blasphemy!). While the Gardens are generally a short distance from each other, it can easily become an annoyance to some. Another idiosyncrasy worth pointing out is Eden’s habit of kicking you out of the stage whenever you pick up a Spectra. It’s a minor quibble, especially since you can easily enter the Garden again and start back at the same position you finished at. I can see it easily becoming an annoyance to completionists who would like to complete the Garden in one go, however, given Eden’s further insistence that you also play any new Gardens you unlock on the way. That’s right, unlock a new Garden and you’ll be whisked away to the entrance for it, where you will have to at least enter the Garden before you can return to the other unfinished Gardens. It makes the game easy to pick up and play, but also easy to put down as well.
PixelJunk Eden is a slick entry in the series, a game with vibrant art and sound direction that would feel at home in a gallery art piece. Eden captures the joy of movement, music, and art through simple core gameplay. A few questionable design decisions hold it back from being truly great, and a lot of the enjoyment you might get from it is dependent on personal preferences regarding art, music, and the way you play games.
- Brilliant Audio-Visual Experience: A smartly crafted combination of art, music, and gameplay. Simple, but overflowing with vivid imagery.
- Arcade Soul: Brings back the simple joy of mastering gameplay mechanics.
- Pick Up and Play Mentality: Makes it easy to get into the game and play it for a bit, but also makes it easy to put down as well
- Minimalist Tutorials: Leaves you a bit of space to explore and learn the mechanics on your own, but can be confusing at the start
- Repetition: While the core gameplay is solid, and the different Gardens give the game a lot of variety, the repetition of the game makes itself prominent at times.