Since the launch of the PlayStation Vita there has been a plethora of fantastic games released which are perfect for the system. Platformers, shooters and action-adventure games have all made an appearance but there is a genre which suits the handheld like a glove but has been neglected: Tower Defense. Luckily the wait is over my fellow TD fans because PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is here to scratch your itch.
The PixelJunk Monsters franchise has been around for quite a while at this point, originally released on the PS3 in 2008 by Q-Games, followed later that year by the PixelJunk Monsters Encore expansion pack. In 2009 PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe was released for PSP which was a ported version including both the original game and the expansion. That version was my first experience with the game and it definitely stands out as one of my favourite games on that system. A few years have passed, and now England-based developer Double Eleven have ported Deluxe to the Vita, giving us PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD.
Now that the history lesson is over, let’s get down to business. You are Tikiman the Forest Defender and monsters are coming to eat your babies. Bad news right? Luckily as Forest Defender you can turn any tree into a tower to take those baddies out before they can munch your offspring. Defeat all the waves of monsters before they eat all of your precious children to beat the level, and if you stop them from eating any you get a perfect score and “rainbow” the level. Sounds easy right? Not quite. PJM is unforgivingly challenging and the minute you let your guard down thanks to overconfidence it will throw a spanner in the works. Obviously by spanner in the works I mean a baby in a monster’s stomach.
There are a number of types of towers for you to use, from the classic Arrow Tower to the more advanced (and expensive) Mortar and Laser towers. To keep things interesting there are both ground and air monsters which require different build strategies to defeat. As you kill the monsters they will drop coins needed to construct new towers, and sometimes they will drop valuable gems which can be used to buy new tower types, as well as fast track upgrading existing towers. Of course as I said, the gems are valuable so you might not want to use them to upgrade existing towers, luckily with each monster killed by a tower it gains experience towards levelling up. Can’t be bothered waiting? Stand Tikiman on top of a tower and he will start doing his magical upgrade dance to speed the process. Never underestimate the power of dance my friends.
There are 47 standard levels to “rainbow” spread across easy, medium and hard difficulties, as well as 24 challenge levels to beat with tasks such as defeating a level without upgrading any towers, or without using any gems. PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is definitely challenging and the road to rainbowing every level can be fraught with frustration, but the sense of accomplishment when you perfect each level is supremely satisfying. It can be very difficult at times, but with experimentation with different tower types and use of gems there is always a way to win. There is also a two-player mode to the game allowing you to take on the various levels with the help of a friend via online or adhoc connectivity. This functionality offers a nice respite when the levels are pushing you to the limit of your frustration, although rainbowing a level in multiplayer doesn’t count towards the single player campaign. That means if you plan on beating the entire game you will inevitably have to go it alone.
Unfortunately for old school fans of the game, the Vita version doesn’t add much to the game. While it does look visually incredible on the Vita’s OLED screen, there aren’t any new levels for those of us who have beaten the game previously. Sure, I didn’t mind playing through it again because it is bucketloads of fun, but if you’ve had your fill in the past you may not want to put yourself through it again. There are some touchscreen controls added to the game including navigating the menus, pinching to zoom in levels, as well as moving Tikiman around the maps; the problem is, as with a lot of games with touchscreen controls, the classic analog controls work perfectly fine, if not better. Sure the implementation of touch makes it more accessible to new audiences who are more used to that control scheme, but I personally didn’t find myself using them at all in game.
Despite the lack of new levels PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate HD is still a fantastic game, and in my opinion it is one of the best tower defense games on the market. It’s challenging, yet the satisfaction of beating levels is enough to get you addicted and want to keep coming back. If you own a Vita I would definitely suggest buying this game, just remember to wear a wrist strap for the more frustrating levels!