Pixelunk Shooter Ultimate isn't really a shooter. Sure, there's shooting in it, but that's not what it's about.
It's about saving more people than you blow up. It's about using and manipulating the elements to your advantage. It's about movement and exploration. And, because it's a PixelJunk game, it's about doing it all in great style.
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate combines the original PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Shooter 2, initially released on PS3 and PC, into a single package on PS Vita.
And it works very well.Playing with elements
PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate seems to be based on a simple concept: lava hurts, water cures. But the game iterates on this simple idea as you progress through the campaign.
The first batch of cavernous levels are filled with treacherous pools of lava, alongside pockets of water – the former will often be responsible for your death by overheating, while the latter provide a cool relief from the fiery gunge.
But then ice is introduced as well, alongside explosive gases, and suits which upgrade your ship with the ability to shoot water and lava.
There's other stuff, too, but the satisfying drip-feed of new ideas is something which should not be spoiled. Whenever you think you've got it sussed, there's always something even more brilliant around the next corner.
Toying with the elements to create a safe passage for your ship, without overheating or murdering helpless victims in the process, becomes a relentlessly creative puzzle.
It takes little explaining, because it's based on a universal logic - different elements react together in different ways, and you exploit these reactions to your advantage.Creative Caverns
The best games have moments in which their appeal is instantly and effortlessly showcased, and PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate is littered with such moments.
Shooting a stream of magma into a waterfall, thus creating a dam of molten rock which channels the water's flow towards a deadly lava pool, is a great example of this.
It also shows off the game's consistently impressive fluid physics. According to Double Eleven, the developer in charge of this Ultimate edition, it was a huge undertaking to get the physics running on Vita.
But whatever technical voodoo the devs used to get it running, it was worth it. Water ebbs and flows realistically, while magma has an authentically gloopy feel.
Design-wise, the game feels like a real labour of love. Little touches like dulling the audio when you're underwater make all the difference, and really say a lot about Q-Games as designers.
It's a looker, too. Despite being attached to the PixelJunk brand, Shooter Ultimate actually has a very clean, modern visual style. It's a game of smooth edges and a pastel colour palette.
I often find puzzle games a little tedious, but PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate's appeal is in its variety. A bit of twin-stick shooting, some tough-as-nails boss battles, and a healthy dose of collect-the-gems completism all keep things fresh.
With the recent news that Sony will be cutting back on first-party titles for Vita, it seems that this handheld is going to be a device for indies first and foremost.
If the resulting games are as good as this one, we're fine with that.