The tower defence genre more often than not aims to be the value-priced snack that hits your gaming spot.
Depth and features are sacrificed to serve up something cheap and quick, like a small burger or bag of crisps.
In which case PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe is a super-sized meal, boasting more meat than nearly any title in the genre.
Like a big burger, shake, and fries, it's a hearty game that fills you up on great strategic gameplay without sacrificing portability. There are a few minor greasy spots, but they can't take away from this tasty tower defence game.
As the wooden-faced Tikiman, you're called upon to protect villagers from waves of monsters by building an array of defensive towers. The trees surrounding each village can be chopped down and replaced with seven different emplacements geared toward defeating specific types of monsters. Learning which towers to build and where is just the game's first layer of strategy.
Quick-fire arrow towers are best for killing hasty spiders, while cannons blast away at swarms of weak blobs and bulky beats. There are also ice towers for slowing down monsters, powerful mortars for extra damage, and expensive laser towers for zapping flying foes.
Each possesses a set firing range and frequency, which naturally factors into where you build them and how many you commission.
This is basic stuff, but PixelJunk Monster Deluxe adds the ingredients of more involved strategy with coin collection and active tower upgrades.
Building defences requires coinage, which comes from defeated enemies. Unlike most tower defence titles where money flows automatically into your coffers, any coins earned must be gathered manually. Since Tikiman is vulnerable to monsters, weaving amongst enemies to collect the coins splashing onto the stage brings an element of action to the game.
Occasionally, blue gems appear alongside coins that can be picked up and used to upgrade your towers. Alternatively, you have the choice of sending Tikiman to dance at the base of a tower and actively level it up. Of course, spending gems results in an immediate upgrade, whereas dancing requires an extended period of time.
Herein lies the game's unique appeal: you're constantly making tactical decisions on whether to spend gems or manually upgrade towers, balancing the time spent collecting coins and building new towers versus time needed to complete an upgrade.
The more advanced the tower, the greater the cost in gems and the time investment should you decide to have Tikiman cut a rug.
Like sipping on a shake between bites of its active tower defense, PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe sweetens the deal with inventive cooperative play both local and online. Having two Tikimans running about the screen building defences, dancing for upgrades, and scurrying about for coins is extraordinarily fun and helpful.
The combination of action and strategy makes PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe refreshing, though difficult. The game's stringent difficulty has a steep learning curve. Monsters often behave unpredictably, coming onto the scene at unexpected locations or varying their route to the village. This inconsistency ensures a challenge, yet it also results in a lot of trial and error.
It doesn't help that most stages are kept locked until you're able to perfectly clear earlier levels. To preserve bonus stages for perfect performances is acceptable, but main levels ought to be opened up for simply passing their predecessors. In other words, requiring perfection is too strict.
There are other minor issues. A fast-forward function would be nice to speed things along during slow waves or gaps. It would be great if mortar, laser, and Tesla towers were permanently unlocked after a single initial purchase instead of having to be bought anew in each stage.
These aren't substantial enough to have a serious impact on the experience, and PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe otherwise does well by its namesake.
This is tower defence super-sized: big on strategy, packed with modes that lend enormous value, and deliciously fun.