When it comes to downloadable games the PixelJunk series is comprised of arguably the most unique and captivating titles on the market. The striking but cordial visuals are unassuming enough to entice the casual player into picking up the controller and the simple but addictive gameplay has the depth to keep both the casual and the hardcore gamer hooked.
Eden is the third game in the PixelJunk series and serves as the first foray in to platform games; however, this isn’t the run-of-the-mill platforming experience we’ve all become begrudgingly accustomed to. For better or for worse the classic genre has been injected with the unmistakable PixelJunk style along with a number of gameplay twists and what results is both a euphoric and frustrating gaming experience.
The game is comprised of 10 gardens that are accessed from within Eden which serves as the hub world. Players are given control of a creature called ‘Grimp’, a name attributed to it because of its ability to grip and jump. Grimp is also able to shoot out a line of silk which it can then use to swing from one part of the garden to another as well as to collect pollen.
Armed with these functions the player is tasked with transforming the serene but barren gardens into gardens thriving with plant-life. The ultimate goal of the game is to collect each of the 5 Spectra (a large flower like item) within the 10 gardens; these Spectra in turn develop the hub world into an idyllic Eden. In order to collect the Spectra that are hidden deeper within the garden the player must gather pollen from the floating pods which burst upon contact with the Grimp or its silk, once the pollen is gathered up using the silk it is drawn into nearby seeds which are fertilised and grow upon contact with the Grimp, the player must then traverse the newly developed terrain to access previously unreachable areas and collect the Spectra.
It's at this point when the first hurdle must be overcome – the controls. In order to jump the analogue stick is used to define a trajectory and then a double tap of the ‘X’ button will launch Grimp into a jump. Pressing ‘X’ once produces a line of silk which is used to swing in a small circle around the original launch point, the distance of the swing can be altered using the trigger buttons which reel Grimp in. While airborne holding the button down will send Grimp into a spin, this allows it to pass through plants the player wishes to bypass, which is useful since Grimp automatically sticks to surfaces it comes into contact with.
While the controls aren’t exactly unwieldy or unusable they do require some getting used to, especially since navigation requires precise and calculated jumps, which can easily go awry if you aren’t comfortable with the controls and are being set upon by one of the patrolling enemies aiming to impede your progression - falling to the bottom of the garden after fifteen minutes of climbing is devastating.
It’s hard to describe the visual style of PixelJunk Eden without resorting to drawing from the lexicon of a stoned frat boy since it is arguably the best fit for the art style – but I’ll refrain.
The appeal of the visual style of Eden lies in the simplicity of the art; the gardens are comprised of psychedelic backgrounds complimented by plants and various pollen pods peppered around each of the gardens, in comparison to the hypnotic backgrounds these are usually simple solid colours but serve as a visually pleasing contrast to the insanity behind it. The delicate use of colour and the subtle changes in lighting make the gardens extremely atmospheric.
Gameplay and the visual style in PixelJunk Eden seem to have a symbiotic relationship, the persistently changing environment and swaying plant-life along with the music perfectly compliment the jumping and swinging mechanic and together manage to create a flow to the gameplay which you can easily lose yourself in, it’s an undeniably stunning game.
The biggest problem in PixelJunk Eden is a problem that stifles the experience to the point that it can become extremely frustrating playing the game; this problem is the time mechanic. While working through the garden there is a timer counting down, once the time runs out you are kicked out of the garden and back to Eden, although the time can be extended through collecting pickups this has a severe impact on the flow of the game since it shifts the focus from exploration and collecting Spectra to a frantic dash to find pickups and prevent expulsion from the garden, and usually ends in a misjudged jump followed by a long and painful fall to the bottom of the garden. The time mechanic breaks the sense of progression and forces the player to abandon any sort of flow or rhythm in order to backtrack.
As well as the time mechanic the progression through the gardens can become increasingly exasperating since the game will only allow the collection of 1 new Spectra at a time, after each new Spectra is collected the game kicks the player out and back to Eden thus forcing the player to constantly replay the same sections numerous times. Coupled with the time mechanic this can become infuriating to the point that some players may feel it just isn’t worth playing through the same areas again.
PixelJunk Eden is delightfully simple in both gameplay and aesthetics but despite the simplicity the visuals are vibrant and engaging and the gameplay is fluid and deep, it’s a unique botanical adventure that needs to be experienced first-hand in order to be appreciated. However it isn’t without flaws, artificially extending the game through forced repetition and time constraints that betray the very nature of the game results in an extremely trying and at times an uneven gameplay experience.