Version tested: PlayStation 3
I hate PixelJunk Eden. It's confusing and frustrating and pretentious and overpriced and dull. I also hate it because I should have started this review two hours ago and I haven't been able to put the Sixaxis down. And now I'm going to be late to meet my Mum. "Why are you late?" my Mum will say. "Because I have been playing a videogame I hate," I will reply. "And yet I find myself compelled to keep playing, like a rat in a laboratory who continues to step on the switch even though 99 times out of a hundred it receives an electric shock instead of a peanut."
"You work too hard," my Mum will say, and secretly wish I'd become a doctor.
I hate PixelJunk Eden. And I can't leave it alone. Let's look at the evidence.
PixelJunk Eden is confusing from the off, thanks to on-screen instructions which are mainly gibberish. But the same could be said of many games; it's only later that PixelJunk Eden takes confusing to an entirely new level.
You play as a small creature called a Grimp (from "grip" and "jump", according to the press release) and you're tasked with exploring a series of stylised gardens. They're populated with trailing fluoresecent plants the Grimp can cling to. He can also attach a silk thread to the plants and use it to swing through their branches.
The goal is to find objects called Spectra hidden in each garden. To reach them, you must pollinate plants so they will sprout new tendrils and branches, creating new pathways. This is done by bursting the orbs of pollen that float around using your body or silk thread. All the while a time gauge ticks away at the bottom of the screen. You can pop special orbs to refill it, but if the gauge empties the game is over. (The trailer might make things a bit clearer.)
The controls are simple - use the left stick to determine the direction in which you jump and swing, and press X to jump and cut your silk thread. You can't control the power of your jumps, and have minimal control over your character when it's in mid-air. The skill comes in working out when to jump from branch to branch, and when to swing straight through them.
That's not what's confusing. What's confusing is the game's wild and carefree disdain for consistency, and the way it throws its head back and laughs in the face of the laws of physics. Many jumps are hard to judge, because the game seems to decide whether your character will make them based on how it's feeling at precisely that moment in time. A plant that looks impossibly far away might be easily reachable, and vice versa. So you're left confused about what your character's capable of, which routes through the level are feasible and why these two aspects appear to change on a moment-to-moment basis.
Which, obviously, is frustrating. However, PixelJunk Eden takes frustrating to an entirely new level.
The Spectra are usually hidden towards the top of the garden, so to reach them you have to follow an upwards path as you jump between plants. It's easy to miss jumps, for the reasons explained above. Unless you've managed to pollinate every seed in sight (all the while racing against the clock and coping with fictional physics, don't forget), there won't be many plants below to catch you when you fall.