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Published December 14, 2009

PixelJunk Shooter‘s name does not do the game justice. I’m sure that Q-Games wanted to keep it short and sweet, as they did with Monsters and Eden before it, but this new moniker seemingly lumps the game in with the glut of other dual-stick… scope shooters currently crowding the PSN. Space spelunkers who have already downloaded this treasure know that this label couldn’t be further from the truth.

Of course Shooter takes its time working up to brilliance. The first few stages require players to navigate a ship through tight caverns to rescue stranded scientists. A few waterfalls may provide some pretty scenery and a quick way to cool down your missile launcher, but it isn’t until you discover your first lava-spewing volcano that the game really picks up steam. Suddenly, the impressive fluid physics aren’t just for show, as the lava and water combine to form a soft, destructible crust.

As paths that were once dangerous start to open up, more substances are integrated into the game. Ice, steam and a magnetic oil completely change the game in unexpected ways, forcing you to consider how all of these things will behave when combined. For instance, activating a water pump may clear out the scalding oil, but the resulting steam is fatal to exposed humans. The levels become increasingly industrialized as you progress, which may result in some careless deaths as you sit there marveling at the intricate machinery. Throw in some Super Mario Bros. 3 style suits, and you have a “shooter” with tons of explorations, experimentation and even puzzle solving.

Best of all, unlike Eden, Shooter doesn’t overstay its welcome. $10 might sound pricey for a five hour game – well, only if you’re really stingy – but every level forces you to approach an environment in a completely different way. None of it’s filler, and no matter how maze-like the caves become, it always makes sense. PixelJunk Shooter‘s level designs are masterpieces, even after you’ve wreaked elemental destruction on them.

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