August 14, 2008

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PixelJunk Eden (PS3)
QGames, July 31, E
By Glenn "friendly thumbs-up" Given production@hippopress.com

Digital delivery earns the maddeningly zen HD puzzler PixelJunk Eden an extra letter grade for saving me a trip to the electronics store.

Developer Q-Games, who brought us the PSN direct download tower defense action puzzle PixelJunk Monsters, finally dropped the long-awaited Eden on us. Up to three local players guide their puff ball “grimps” to swing via spider-silk from plant to plant in each “garden.” Swinging your grimp through the wafting pollen powers up stationary seeds, which sprout into new structures you can swing from, enabling further level exploration and the acquisition of spectra. Collecting spectra opens up new levels for existing gardens (which frustratingly always include retreading the earlier incarnations of said garden) with added spectra as well as expanding the number of gardens accessible from the home state.

Grimp maneuvers are limited to latching onto various plant surfaces, spinning mid-flight to pass through surfaces, extending a silk grapple-line and shifting momentum during a swing. It’s all very elegantly controlled and the range of motion, or lack thereof, provides the title’s core gameplay challenge as one must accurately Tarzan oneself bit by bit upward while faithfully hurling oneself at small targets to proceed. The whole shebang would be a completely enjoyable exercise in addictive, energetic fun a la flow if it weren’t for Eden’s punishing time constraints. It is fault enough that players must revist each garden multiple times to progress so the synchronization meter, while rechargeable to a limited extent by environmental effects, serves only to hamstring the experience. I was half expecting such limits to be repealed upon completion of Eden’s 50 spectra collection, but sadly no. The game-ending unlock of customizable soundtracks (though the title’s soothing mix fits quite nicely anyway) is a nifty treat, even if it does disable the built-in record and upload to youtube.com function. Worse still is the teeth-gritting multiplayer. Fatal camera focus cripples team play as jumping offscreen will trigger an unpredictable transport of players toward each other. While this might seem great when your buddy slips off a leaf and caroms down the stalk, Eden often mind-bogglingly chooses to pull everybody down to the worst position rather than recover a stray jumper.

Eden is a great game with beautiful presentation and delightfully playful and soothing control and challenge hampered by its own choices. Minus the fun-retarding clock and painfully uncooperative co-op mode Eden would be great, but as is it’s just a nice B-Glenn Given