Gamers looking to get in touch with their inner space explorer should find Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate, recently released on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 and free for PlayStation Plus subscribers. I'd call it "PlayStation: The Game" after all that, but Q-Games and Double 11, responsible for the game's most recent incarnation, demonstrate a knowing awareness of what could be great and what could be terrible and what usually doesn't work in portable shooters.
Ultimate, which combines both previous Pixeljunk Shooter games, looks great on PlayStation 4, but the second was one of the first games I played on my PlayStation Vita around that system's launch. I had been hoping to take Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate on the road during E3 last week and, while I haven't come anywhere close to beating the game or discovering all of the hidden explorers, Ultimate remains one of Sony's better cross-platform downloadables.
The Pixeljunk franchise has relied on smart twists on classic game mechanics in the past, with an experimental music instrument in 4am and garden-growing in Eden, but Shooter Ultimate has a lot more going for it with plenty of challenge and a few unique gameplay twists. For example, Shooter doesn't present you with a reticule and a grimacing grip on the front end of a rifle in the bottom-right of your screen. Levels are presented in 2D with various environmental barriers, puzzles, and plenty of explorers to rescue.
You can blast away at sediment to reveal diamonds and other hidden goodies, but if the trigger finger gets too itchy, you could hurt one of the orange-suited spelunkers and subsequently drop your level score a few notches. Hidden areas lurk around dark corners too, but the game gets a lot better as you progress and learn to use various tools to complete levels.
In one sequence, you'll fill a pod with water to chill a lava flow and break through it. Your ship might also get upgraded with a lava cannon, but the extreme heat makes every move a potential scorcher with the potential to send you back to start. It's not like you go into these challenges unprepared or uninformed, as the controls and mechanical structure get lengthy tutorial sequences, but the game's graphics belie the depth of combat and puzzle-solving within.
I love the colorful environments, the little messages from explorers, and the sense of satisfaction you get from clearing a level quickly. Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate plods along at a slower pace than you'd expect from the shooter genre, but its style and adventuresome attitude make it endearing and perfect for PlayStation Vita.
The detailed environments can sometimes prove difficult to see on Vita thanks to the small screen, but all the color and monster variety make up for it by communicating most dangers clearly and plainly. I would also complain about the Vita analog sticks and how hard it can be to perfect your aim with the dual analog sticks, but these issues seem like they'd be easily fixed on the PS4 version.
Where the PS3 version lagged quite a bit via remote play, the Vita version looks great on my original unit's OLED display. I haven't tested the PS4 version, but given that this downloadable currently costs PlayStation Plus subscribers absolutely nothing, it'd be dumb not to get it on your device.