Wot I Think: PixelJunk Eden

By John Walker on February 20th, 2012 at 1:02 pm.

I'd like this guy to decorate my house.

It’s been out a while, but you know what? It takes a while to play! PixelJunk Eden, the four year old PSN platformer, has mysteriously appeared on PC. What did I think of its ambient amblings? Just bouncybounce your way below and I’ll jolly well tell you Wot I Think.

“Yes, but what next?” was a question I kept asking for the first couple of hours with the utterly lovely PixelJunk Eden. It was serene, and I was in no way objecting to playing its gentle, meandering levels, but it wasn’t making sense as a progressing game. Leaping my tiny spinning character around vivid, gorgeous levels, in the hunt for Spectra, offered a soothing, calming time, but I felt like it was supposed to be proffering more. Then it did.

If there’s a criticism to be levelled at PJE, it’s a failure to communicate. While exploring things for yourself can offer much, not understanding the purpose of what you find can be problematic. And although it eventually reveals all, it takes its time doing so, and I fear may lose some people’s attention along the way. And it ought not, because this is a really fine thing.

A 2008 PS3 hit, the PC re-design is no slapdash affair. Rethinking the control to the mouse, it relies on a left, right and middle button for all actions, elegantly offering an ever-growing number of controls. At first you begin simply jumping your guy (outside the game called “Grimp”) with the right mouse button. Click to jump, then holding the button down you can influence his spin as he arcs, steering but not ultimately controlling him. He’ll stick to any surface (the horrible name apparently being a portmanteau of “grip” and “jump”).

Then comes the thread, allowing Grimp to spin on a string from any organic surface for a few rotations. Later left and right clicking at the same time will cause you to thump downward, and then comes the middle button with the ability to retract your thread, and teleport back to the last stable surface.

The aim, such as it is, is to collect the five Spectra in each Garden. To progress through these levels, you need to collect a sort of digital pollen by jumping through floating enemy florets. Gather their scattered remains (either by jumping through them, or sweeping over them with your thread) and they’ll glide over to fill nearby – uh – blob seed things, which when full of pollen will change colour. Jump into them and they’ll sprout and grow new organic platforms that will help you reach further up or along the Garden.

That, for a bit too long, seems all there is to it. But all the while, along the bottom of the screen is a synchronisation meter, slowly and mysteriously depleting, but not fast enough to worry about. It can be refilled by collecting “cystals”, which look more like protozoa, but for the longest time I wasn’t sure why.

Get far enough in and all this makes sense. Gathering pollen has a cost, and soon you’ll find you can’t just freely leap about like the young, fresh-faced Grimp you once were. You’ll need to balance collecting crystozoas alongside it, even forcibly generating them through various techniques you’ll learn as you play. Run out and you’ll fail the level.

Also very slowly introduced are new level elements that affect how you explore, some making things remarkably tricky and forcing you to rethink your tactics, others simply making it more fun to fling yourself around gathering dusty bytes and watching the level organically growing around you.

And it’s sublime. For all the time I was struggling to understand the structure of the game, I was still happily playing it, still delighting in trying to make tricky jumps, curling Grimp onto distant platforms, and reaching that seemingly impossible Spectra for eternal glory.

The art design is constantly wonderful, each Garden vividly unique. I can’t do justice to the crisp, minimalist beauty, so just take a look at the screenshots. And this is accompanied by ambient music from the same designer, an artist known as Baiyon, if it was important for you to know. It all fits perfectly with the slow, gliding movement, creating a surprisingly calming experience. The mouse controls work perfectly, and it looks stunning at high resolutions, making me hope that Q-Games will see fit to release more of their PixelJunk games this way.

If there were one change I would ask for, it’s a restructuring of how the Spectra are gathered. At the moment, it’s one at a time, with the level stopping, going to an interminably slow series of screens that tell you that, yes, you’ve collected one more Spectra, and then eventually letting you go back in to carry on. Unless you’ve unlocked a new Garden, at which point it will force you to play that one instead. I may be wrong, but I thought the PS3 version was structured so that the second time you entered a Garden you had to collect two Spectra, then three, four and finally five in one go. Here it’s needlessly broken up in a very disjointed fashion, that unnecessarily breaks the flow. It’s only after a Garden’s complete that you can have a free-for-all, seeking all five at once, which I think would be a lot more fun first time in.

But that’s a niggle. This is a really splendid thing – gentle, lovely platforming, with a zen-like atmosphere and constantly evolving ideas (once they finally get started) with each new Garden. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, but more importantly, it’s enormously engaging to play.

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19 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    equatorian says:

    I’ve been interested in this but for one question : is it possible to play in any productive manner if you’re absolutely, hopelessly and irredeemably rubbish at platformers?

    • Fiatil says:

      It’s kind of a more relaxed platformer than what you would imagine. It gets very difficult towards the end, but you can’t really die in any real sense either. The worst thing that can happen is you miss a flower-platform-thingy and you fall down the level, wasting time (and your time meter) trying to get back up. Your grimp floats through the air when he jumps, so it’s more of a technique affair than it is timing or reflexes for the most part.

    • Roarster says:

      It starts off quite easy and slowly ramps up the difficulty. Even a totally hamfisted player should be able to get a good 8 hours out of it before it gets too much. It’s also structured so that the next level is unlocked before you’ve had to do everything in the previous levels meaning you should always be able to progress.

      Even if you’re not a platformer fan I’d say this is worth picking up – if only to experience the shear level of imagination displayed in each of the gardens. Great soundtrack as well.

    • Premium User Badge

      equatorian says:

      I’m afraid I’m not a fan of the type of music. It does look interesting, however, and 8 hours seem sufficient bang for the buck. I’m always for imaginative level design and lovely artsy art, even if it’s for a genre I’m terrible at.

      Thanks!

  2. Tony Heugh says:

    I hope the rest of these come out on PC, lovely games. Nice to see they put some thought into porting it too. Thanks for the article John, buying it today.

    • Premium User Badge

      Yachmenev says:

      Q-Games said that they are thinking about bring the other games to PC, but that it depended on the sales of this games, and so far the PC audience haven´t seemed that interested in this games based on the sales. It´s a real shame, because even if it´s an old game, it´s a really good one, and a really good port of it.

    • bokadam says:

      I think the main reason for it’s bad sales (at least for now) is marketing. PixelJunk might be a well known franchise on PSN, but no one knows it on PC. On Steam forums, a lot of people wrote that they bought the game because in the past they have played it on PS3 and liked it, and now they want it on their Steam library. There weren’t much people who are new to the franchise. Also so far I couldn’t see any ads, could barely see reviews about it. And there is no demo to try it out as well.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Tunips says:

    Good to know. I bought it, and quite enjoyed it up to the ‘is that it?’ stage. I will now start playing it some more – If Crusader Kings 2 ever stops devouring all of time.

  4. Premium User Badge

    RobF says:

    It’s a great game, tremendously good looking, gentle but not tedious difficulty curve and by the time you’re hitting up the Encore stages, bonkers too.

    Exemplary port too, it’s so smooth and slick that it feels like it’s where it belongs.

    Must add, I quite liked the way it breaks up the stages, it helps encourage the player to go off and try somewhere else for a while and drops a lot of the normal pressures of games that want to funnel your progression around what the designer wants. The more laid back fuck-it-whatever of EdenPC feels nicer to me and fitting. Same for how the stats screens fit to a rhythm. It’s pretty much permission to walk away for a bit, that’s ok etc…

    I’d like to see more games as less needy as this rather than this be as needy as other games.

    That aside, couldn’t agree harder.

  5. magnus says:

    The aming cursor needs to be a different colour though, I keeps missing it’s position on the screen and end up jumping in the wrong direction.

  6. LostGlove says:

    I loved the start of Eden but my dislike grew the more Complex it got. The first couple worlds of Eden & Encore just let me flit around and enjoy collecting all the little bits of pollen. When it got to the teleport pads, gravity changing and reliance on rock surfaces to make everything trickier, I just ended up getting frustrated more than anything. I want to like the whole of the game, but it just ramps up to frustrating for me.

  7. Eddy9000 says:

    Can this be played without a 3 button mouse? My amazing £50 logitec MX500 that can work on a surface made purely of translucent agar jelly doesn’t have a functional middle button.

    • devlocke says:

      Pressing down on your scroll wheel is probably a middle-mouse-button-click. If the wheel is all wobbly and you can’t do that without scrolling, that might be an issue (I have had a mouse like that), but you almost definitely have a middle mouse button. Unless it’s super-old.

  8. slabgar says:

    It is worth noting that once you have collected each of the spectra on a level, further visits require you to collect all five spectra. That is, a ‘completed’ level does not end when you collect a spectra. I find it to be my favorite way to play.

  9. Nihilexistentialist says:

    The co-op is great fun on PS3, did they remove it for PC? I noticed on Steam it only says “Single Player.”

    • DOLBYdigital says:

      Anyone know if co-op is removed. 1 on mouse and 1 on controller would be awesome!!

    • mittortz says:

      I bought it, and it is indeed awesome, but I can confirm no co-op or controller support, unfortunately. Though the latter is really fine; they designed the mouse controls well.

    • Dominic White says:

      This is the latest in a long list of console games which have had local co-op (a pretty goddamn major playmode) removed in the PC version. I’m hoping someday that some site will cover this.