Review: PixelJunk Eden
We sew the seed, nature grows the seed, we eat the seed.
Q-Games have been releasing a few games under the brandname PixelJunk, the mediocre Racers and the rather excellent Monsters. Eden is their third game has built up a fair bit of hype for both its radical look and its unique gameplay. This game brings to mind in no particular order both Woodstock and Robots, all crazy hippy love and trance-like electronica. You’d expect this game to therefore be relaxing, restful maybe trancey, but on the later stages it can become teeth grindingly frustrating.
The premise of this game sees you as some kind of miniature gardener tending to a vivid alien garden. You do this through very simple controls. Basically you can jump around the garden, sticking to whatever you touch. From this position you can either jump towards another plant or swing away on a web. While on your web you swing in a full circle and can gain momentum to allow you to jump further, arcing across the screen. This is fine if you are good at judging angles and trajectories, but if you release at the wrong angle it’s very frustrating to go sailing inches away from the plant you were aiming for. And this will happen many times.
While you make your way around the various plants large pollen seeds float by and it’s these which form the structure to the game. By swinging on your web or jumping directly into these pollen seeds they burst open in an explosion of pollen. You can rack up combos by bursting more than one pollen seed during one swing of your web, and the more you burst open the more pollen they release.
All this pollen is collected and used to germinate new plant seeds which, when full, glow and await your touch. By jumping into these seeds they sprout into new flowers and grow to allow you to climb yet higher and further into your garden. You use these new plants and routes they create to find creatures called Spectra. Collect enough of these Spectra and you complete the level.
You got to balance this pollen collecting whilst watching the Oscillator bar which is remorselessly ticking down. You can top this bar back up by collecting crystals, but unlike pollen these don’t respawn and, consequently, you’ll soon find that your most-used routes start to become a little empty of crystals and your Oscillator starts to drop lower. This constant time limit does however work to focus your playing and gives some recognisable structure to an otherwise hard to define game.
On it’s first play this game did seem needlessly complicated with talk of Spectra and pollen and so on but it really is brilliantly simple. Collect the crystals scattered about the stage to refill your time meter and kill bad dudes to collect pollen from them but with such simplicity comes the attentions of some twat who thinks he knows how to make things better (me).
PixelJunk Eden is a damn fine game but it does take some getting used to (this always comes hand in hand with originality). When jumping you do have slight degree of being able to steer where you are falling to but it’s quite stiff and unresponsive, so if you fuck up a jump it can be quite the long fall down and downâ€¦ and down and down and nothing is more frustrating than falling knowing it will take you a while to get back up there.
Three-player mode is pretty redundant as with more than one person playing at once the screen can only zoom out so far before someone falls off the edge and costs you valuable time. It is fun and distracting but I honestly do not think it makes completing the levels any easier.
The game is fun, colourful, organic and some of the later levels will surprise you. Don’t try the demo thinking that all ten levels will be the same as the first. New enemies, obstacles and layouts keep things fresh from start to finish.
Secondary Score: 8/10
There is however a fundamental issue with how this game works in the fact you are constantly growing new plants higher and higher. This inevitably means that after a few minutes you actually forget how high up you are and, due to the lack of precision control, movement being based on arcs of swing, it takes only a little lapse of concentration for you to swing past a plant and go plummeting down to the floor and have to start making your way back up again. Unlike the precision of a good platform game where you know it’s your fault that you missed a ledge, it never feels like this in Eden and instead ends up just feeling like bad game design.
At least the camera is proficient here as it zooms in and out in a very intuitive way to give you a fuller view of the playing area and always gives you sufficient room to see where you should be going. The graphics are also worthy of note, being a strange blend of bold colours and smooth flowing edges. The flame trail which emanates from your guy when he plummets down any distance is a nice touch.
There is a kind of beguiling beauty to this game if it’s played well, you find yourself arcing across the screen to pulsating lights and trance like music. In fact upon first playing this game it suggests that it’s best experienced on a large HD telly with good speakers. It is easy to find yourself playing this game and forgetting the time and just experiencing the combination of visuals and music. Whilst the graphics generally hold up well some aspects of the game like the main menu can just end up looking a little sparse, and the red writing used in the loading menu is particularly difficult to read.
This game does have one unique and frankly revolutionary aspect. You are able to record your game using the in game menu and once you’ve made your video you can choose to either save this to your HDD or upload, direct from the game, to Youtube. This whole process is very intuitive and you start and pause the recording by clicking the right analogue stick. This game wants to be some kind of art installation and by adding this video upload it’s allowing you to show the game to everyone. This video uploading is an amazing idea and I can’t help but hope it gets used in other games in the future. See the links below for examples of a couple of the videos I’ve uploaded. Vid 1 and Vid 2
Overall, this game is a mixed bag, enjoyable to look at and listen to but not the most enjoyable game to play. It feels like the game wants to be considered as an art form and has almost forgotten the fact it’s still a game and consequently it ends up feeling like nothing but a jazzed up flash game.