This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the seemingly endless stream of Tower Defense genre reviews I have done in various places over the last couple of years, but when I had the chance to take a look at PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe for the PSP, I jumped at the chance! The game was already highly regarded from the PSN release for the PS3 in early 2008, so it seemed likely that the game would be a great fit on the PSP.
Be the defender of the forest and defend the pathway of your home base from an onslaught of various threatening monsters. In between waves of monstrous attacks, you must scramble to reinforce your defenses by collecting gold coins and jewels from fallen enemies to finance new towers and research deadlier weapons.
PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe earns the ‘Deluxe’ label by adding a ton of content to the original release: it includes the original, PixelJunk Monsters Encore, a new island with ten new maps, full ad-hoc and infrastructure support, new towers and more. I have often complained about late ports of games from other platforms adding little value to the PSP, but in this case we have the exact opposite – a true value add that makes the new version more compelling than the original!
Of course, a ton of content doesn’t matter if the core game isn’t worth playing, but that isn’t an issue with PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. There is a reason it is considered one of the absolutely best downloadable console games ever released, and that is because it combines tactical strategy and fast-paced action perfectly and smoothly.
The core game is a fairly typical Tower Defense, but rather than a typical grid based system where you drop in towers into blank spaces (like the recently released PSP Mini / iPhone port Fieldrunners), you are operating in a variety of island setting with established routes already in place, and you transform these elements into a variety of tower types. As is typical, your enemies will be strong against some towers and weak against others, so you need to plan out your routes carefully – but in real-time with waves of enemies attacking! You can also upgrade your towers as you progress, which is critical to taking down enemies more quickly … which is critical as more and more enemies attack at once.
I had heard about the difficulty of the game from the original PSN release and particularly from the expansion. The PSP version is still pretty tough, but the added content falls in between the islands from the original and the expansion. This gives you the opportunity to improve your skills before being decimated on the Encore island! Personally I found the game challenging but not too brutal, but I typically find most Tower Defense games too easy at later levels. However, at certain points the game requires you do more than succeed – you need to succeed without any villagers dying in order to collect a Rainbow, and those are needed to unlock new areas and islands.
In terms of the technical aspects, the game looks and sounds great and the controls work perfectly. The visuals have a charming cartoon style that is distinctive but not busy. Environments and towers and enemies are all distinct so that you never get lost in the details. There is plenty of variety in the areas you defend throughout the game, so it will never get boring. The music is simple and repetitive, but is also infectious in terms of getting into your head! Controls are simple as with most tower games – you are panning the camera, zooming, selecting sites, building and upgrading towers, and not much else.
My final thought is on multiplayer: it rocks, AND it features online co-op! There is a lobby where up to eight people can gather, but you can only attack areas with two folks so you need to pair off before proceeding. Multiplayer takes you through the same maps as the core game, but with two Tiki men working on defending the villagers, there is also a struggle between players to grab gold and gems and build towers first! There is text chat in the lobby, simple text chat in-game via an icon menu, and even a lobby ticker where you can monitor progress of ongoing games. It is a great system that works perfectly – especially for those without local PSP-owning friends.
I was surprised by PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. I expected a good game. What I didn’t expect was one of the best PSP games of the year. Each time I approach a new tower defense game I expect to be disappointed, but instead I have been thrilled this year with he constant stream of excellent genre games. And PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe is definitely one of the best games in the tower defense genre,and one that every PSP owner should grab!
Review: PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
Price: $9.99 (also available for same price on PSN)
What I Like: Loads of fun; Tons of content; Great Tower Defense core game
What Needs Improvement: Camera occasionally takes over; High difficulty plus required ‘Rainbows’ may put some players off.
Source: Review code provided by publisher