PixelJunk Eden

Swing for the Fences

PixelJunk Eden takes gardening to new heights. And completely messes with your head in the process.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 10, 2008
One could be forgiven for writing the folks over at Q-Games off after their first release, the creative but impossibly hard PixelJunk Racers. If you didn't play that game and instead came on board with the PixelJunk series with the insanely good PixelJunk Monsters, you may well consider them the best developer on the PSN -- particularly after their follow-up, PixelJunk Eden.


The truth is likely somewhere in between, though is skews way, way closer to the latter than the former. PixelJunk Eden is very much like the other PixelJunk games in that it takes a simple concept and then makes it relentlessly addictive yet saddles the player with a rather insane difficulty curve. I've never been so simultaneously drawn to and turned off by a game in my life, and as you'd expect it creates a rather weird dichotomy inside.

Eden's rules are simple: cultivate a garden by popping little creatures called Prowlers to release pollen, then touch that pollen to send it to a nearby seed and once those seeds have enough pollen, they'll sprout new plants that let you continue the process until you come across a Spectra, one of five glowing symbols tucked away somewhere in each of the game's 10 gardens. The means by which you'll navigate the garden are two-fold: you'll grip onto things and jump around, hence the name of the little critter that you're guiding around, a Grimp.

The little guy also has one other major resource at his disposal: the ability to jump out attached to a spinneret and swing around the garden. If he cuts his line at any time, he can be sent flying in that direction, and if he spins, he'll pass through everything he'd normally stick to save for rocks (which he can't attach a line to when jumping anyway).

These basic rules are all that stands between you and a fully pollinated garden, though of course as the game goes on, the challenges get greater and greater. For instance, those Pollen Prowlers that previously would just give up their guts upon being touched by a line will weaken and then cut said line, meaning you'll have to use the shoulder buttons to reel in the Grimp to actually physically touch them. Other enemies must be spun into to damage them, while still others use a little SIXAXIS jerking motion to scream through them (also useful for correcting wide jumps or just heading down quickly).

It's in the simplicity and steadily ratcheting difficulty that the game finds its hooks in most players. The process of growing out a garden is bizarrely soothing, but missing a jump and falling all the way back down to the bottom (which can take tens of seconds on the later levels) is infuriating like few games. Even still, for every pissed-off moment, there are 10 where the thrill of swinging, leaping, spinning and smashing around makes for an incredibly thrilling experience.

Maybe it's the fact that popping consecutive critters or targets gets you progressively more pollen that can then be sent out to fill up seeds. There really is nothing like hitting a chain of 10 enemies and watching the screen grow absolutely filled to the brim with pollen, then to swing around and watch it pour into nearby seeds. Whatever the reason, PixelJunk Eden is damned enjoyable -- all while being unmercifully tough. See why I'm so torn?

Both the super-simplistic visuals, which really only get crazy in the backgrounds toward the end of the game, and the almost hypnotic way that plants sprout from the seeds, and the game's thumping, mindlessly repetitive soundtrack have a way of lulling you into playing for hours on end. I can't count the number of hours that I lost while sitting down to get "just one more Spectra."

It's that bizarre attraction that kept me coming back to the game, even when I'd lose a half-hour or more to one poorly timed jump. See, there's a constantly ticking clock that must be managed in addition to everything else, and though hitting five or more enemies at a time or finding a way to pollinate two seeds in one jump will reward you with little time crystals, the real key to staying in the game is to find the increasingly rare big crystals. Touching a Spectra will also fully refill things, and since each successive dive into a garden means you have to get one more Spectra (up to five), there's a ton of strategy involved in getting everything in one go.

The game is certainly made for OCD completists and the Trophies (Eden was the second game to support them) only make that more obvious. Some of the goals, like getting all the Spectra in a garden without letting a single bit of pollen disappear, were clearly designed by sadists for masochists. And yet, I found myself chasing them -- at least the more reasonable ones -- and with each new Spectra unlocking more and more of a path to the next garden, there's a constant carrot being dangled in the player's face. Maybe now you'll understand why so many people on your buddies list were playing the game. And no, it wasn't just trophies.

PixelJunk Eden is far from a perfect game, but in terms of raw ability to steal away hours at a time, it's damn near unmatched. You'll hate that you keep retrying, but you will retry a level again... and again... and again until you've gotten everything, and then you'll move onto the next. Yes, it's evil, but that doesn't mean it isn't a hell of a lot of fun too.
The Verdict
8.0

PixelJunk Eden must surely be at least a small approximation of what an abusive relationship is like. You'll be beaten and angered so many times you'll lose count, but you'll keep coming back, again and again and again and again and...

8.0Graphics:

Simplistic? Sure. Trippy? Oh heyall yes. Potheads and fryers are going to freak.

7.0Sound:

While the sound effects are good, the hours you'll spend in the gardens and their ultra-repetitive music will start to grate after a while. Even songs I thought were good started to really annoy me after a while.

8.0Control:

Solid stuff. There was a perplexing decision to let a person press and hold the jump button to extend a line and then cut it as soon as they let off, which can make for some insanely huge mistakes by accident, but otherwise things are nice and tight.

8.0Gameplay:

Simultaneously fun and frustrating as hell. You'll hate the game, but you'll keep coming back for more.