hat could a top-down racer, a quirky real time strategy game and an enigmatic gardening sim possibly have in common? Quite a bit when the titles of all three are preceded by the PixelJunk moniker. When Japan's Q-Games began releasing its first series of deceptively simple titles on the PlayStation 3 back in mid 2007, a lot of discerning gamers were wowed by both their glossy presentation and innovative play mechanics. PixelJunk Eden, Q-Games' newest, continues this tradition.
Eden is one of those rare titles that's a heck of a lot easier to play than it is to describe.Eden is one of those rare titles that's a heck of a lot easier to play than it is to describe — a puzzle game with substantial music and simulation components, it transcends genre in a similar fashion to Rez or Pikmin. Players take control of a tiny creature called a Grimp, navigating and pollinating various garden environments by hopping along and swinging on a strand of silk. As one's Grimp successfully pollinates new seeds, they're able to sprout saplings which they can then climb to reach higher points in the garden. Tendrils of plant life will form pathways to Spectra, glowing orbs which the player must collect if they wish to unlock new gardens and new experiences.
Both visually and aurally, Eden's presentation is nothing short of beautiful. Despite their muted hues and two-dimensional flatness, the game's gardens compel players to both explore and revisit. Meanwhile, Eden's soundtrack serves as a grim reminder that the player's tasks must be completed according to a strict timetable — dawdle, and captivating techno riffs degenerate into simpler blips and beeps, and then silence. This is one of those rare titles that transforms your television into an art gallery and your sound system into a symphony orchestra.
In a game like this, why keep score?Still, not all of Eden is perfection. For a title that's bound to appeal to many non-traditional gamers, its controls sure can be finicky — with the 'x' button governing most of the Grimp's actions, I often found myself plummeting to the forest floor rather than swinging gracefully on my silk thread as I'd intended. Also irksome is Eden's graphical interface — considering the soundtrack serves as a sort of "life meter," why must there be a rather gaudy life bar on the screen at all times? Perhaps these are nitpicks — neither complaint did much to lessen my enjoyment of the game. Still, when so much in Eden stands as a benchmark, inadequacies like these only become more apparent.
Unlike many download games, Eden has the potential to build quite the online community. Though I was unable to participate in any multiplayer matches, one might imagine the possibilities that would come from having an extra Grimp or two in the garden — players could cooperate to swing teammates to heights they'd be unable to reach on their own, and resource management tasks would become even less of a burden than they already are. Q-Games has also included a rather robust video capture tool. Savvy players can store gameplay footage in the ubiquitous MPEG4 codec and distribute these clips through PSN, YouTube, or just about any other outlet they can think of. If only Bungie made things this simple.
While falling just short of perfect, PixelJunk Eden stands as one of the most innovative games (downloadable or otherwise) to be released so far this year. A poster child for the "games as art" movement, one can only hope that it inspires other developers to strive to create titles which, through their own uniqueness, appeal to both the casual and the hardcore alike.